From the outside, Mercer Island Rabbi Daniel Lapin and his right-wing Toward Tradition charityappear to be purring right along despite blowback from the two-year Lobbygate scandal and now - in a Senate report yesterday - being accused of defrauding taxpayers. Lapin just launched an attractive new charity Web site and cheerily insists he is not folding his operations as the Senate committee says in its new report. His latest federal tax forms, however, filed a year ago, show a bit gloomier picture: his charity had a negative net balance of $70,000 in 2004 on revenues of $586,000 from donations and speaking engagements. That deficit follows a $50,000 negative net from a year earlier. Lapin nonetheless got a $3,000 raise in 2004, to $160,000 a year as president. Disgraced and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who worked in the D.C. offices of Preston Gates Ellis law and lobbying firm of Seattle, is still listed as a board director of Toward Tradition in the latest filing, but has since resigned. It was Abramoff of course who helped Lapin launch and run the charity and then cast the federal spotlight on Lapin after Abramoff washed $50,000 in illegal Lobbygate funds through the non-profit.
The funneling was part of an influence scheme to gain favors from then House Majority Leader Tom Delay, by hiring the wife of an aide to DeLay to work for Toward Tradition. Lapin, also a conservative radio talk-show host, claims his tax-exempt group was unaware of the scheme and he denies any wrongdoing. But yesterday's Senate Finance Committee report, prepared by its Democratic committee staff and approved by its Republican chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), said Toward Tradition and four other Abramoff-linked groups "appear to have perpetrated a fraud on other taxpayers." The Lobbygate fallout continued today as Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty to bribery and faces ten years in prison (where he could still collect a congressional pension). Later this month, former White House official David Safavian - like Abramoff, an alumnus of Preston Gates - faces sentencing for covering up attempts to conspire with Abramoff.