Watchdog Group Says Frist’s AIDS Charity Event Violates Campaign Finance, IRS Laws
The government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has sent a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics requesting an investigation into Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) plan to host an AIDS fundraiser during the Republican National Convention in New York City, the Tennessean reports. Frist has established a not-for-profit foundation called "World of Hope" to sponsor a concert and reception at Rockefeller Center on the first day of the convention in September. The foundation, which is seeking donations of up to $250,000, expects to raise $2 million for five AIDS charities in the United States and Uganda (Bivins, Tennessean, 5/6). However, CREW in the letter says that the event is a "cover for the [Republican party] to evade the ban on soft money contributions" by allowing members to provide "extensive access" to large donors, most of whom will be lobbyists (Roll Call, 5/6). CREW says the event may violate Senate finance laws barring members from seeking contributions for charities from lobbyists as well as IRS rules prohibiting charities from participating in political events "on behalf of or against a candidate," according to the Tennessean. "National party committees can't accept soft money, and members of Congress aren't supposed to raise soft money," Center for Responsive Politics Director Larry Noble said, adding, "What they've now started to do is sponsor charity events, and this allows special interest groups and unions to give large contributions to charity and cozy up to members" (Tennessean, 5/6). CREW in the letter calls on the Senate committee to conduct an investigation of the event, issue an opinion and impose penalties to "prevent senators from exploiting charitable organizations for political gain" (Roll Call, 5/6). Frist spokesperson Nick Smith said the senator is confident he is in compliance with IRS and ethics committee rules, according to the Tennessean. Smith added that the event is consistent with Frist's longtime support of the fight against AIDS, the Tennessean reports (Tennessean, 5/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.