By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 7, 2006
Charities in the Washington area and across the country are reaping the benefits of the Jack Abramoff case as legislators distancing themselves from the convicted lobbyist dump campaign contributions linked to him and donate the money to worthy causes.
Almost 80 congressional representatives and state lawmakers have announced that they are giving to charity the contributions they or their political action committees received from Abramoff and his associates or clients. The causes include hurricane relief, animal shelters, community groups, health organizations, veterans' groups and Native American organizations.
Judith Falkenrath, director of the Annandale Christian Community for Action child-development center, was thrilled to get a call yesterday from the office of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), saying her organization would get a portion of the $4,500 in Abramoff-linked campaign contributions that Davis is jettisoning.
"Any dime we can get our hands on is welcome," said Falkenrath, whose center cares for 183 low-income preschoolers. "We have a pretty tight budget, so we were pleased to hear about it."
Other area lawmakers are also focusing their Abramoff-linked largess on local charities.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is donating $1,000 that he received from the Tigua Indian tribe in 2002 to the Pentagon Memorial Fund, a spokesman said yesterday. The fund is raising $18 million to build a memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who first said he planned to hang on to $2,000 he received from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe in 2004, reversed himself yesterday and said he would return the money to the tribe.
In addition, he said he would donate $2,000 his campaign received from Abramoff and an associate to an effort to house the families of wounded military members at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond.
Allen spokesman David Snepp said the senator has previously donated to the Rockville organization that builds the homes, the Fisher House Foundation.
"He really identifies with its mission," Snepp said.
Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), chief deputy majority whip, is turning over about $10,000 to the William Byrd Community House, a Richmond social services organization.
Because Maryland election law forbids candidates from donating campaign money to charity, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) had to renege on his announced plan to donate $16,000 from Abramoff to a Baltimore charity. Instead, a spokesman said, he will return it to Abramoff.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) plans to give $5,000 in contributions from Indian tribes that were clients of Abramoff to the American Indian College Fund, a spokeswoman said yesterday.
A major beneficiary from the rush to dump the Abramoff money is the Alexandria-based Salvation Army.
Among others, Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) is donating $35,000 to the faith-based organization, and Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) is turning over $2,250.
"While I'm uncomfortable with the charges associated with the money," Maj. George Hood, a Salvation Army spokesman, wrote in an e-mail, "it truly is a practical case of turning lemons into lemonade."
Charities said yesterday that they saw nothing wrong with accepting the money, despite its origins.
As long as it is legal for the donor to make the contribution, "there is no constraint on the charity accepting it," said Marion Fremont-Smith, a lawyer and research fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University.
David W. Livingston, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, which will be getting $6,000 from the Bush-Cheney campaign, said: "Our position is, why would we not accept it? It is not an unlawful contribution, and when we're fighting the Number 1 and Number 3 biggest killers of Americans, why not? We're going to put that to good use."