Nina Link: 'Looking Back, I Wish It Had Never Happened'

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NEW YORK ( -- Magazine Publishers of America President-CEO Nina Link said this morning that she regrets taking the advice of a lobbying team that included Jack Abramoff to donate $25,000 to a conservative advocacy group in an attempt to impress powerful Washington Republicans.
Nina Link

In her first interview on the subject since news of the donation surfaced last week, Ms. Link said, “Looking back, I wish it had never happened.”

The recipient of the 2000 donation was Toward Tradition, which describes itself as a coalition of Jews and Christians seeking to advance America toward faith-based principles. At Mr. Abramoff’s suggestion, Toward Tradition used the $25,000 from the MPA and another $25,000 from eLottery to hire the wife of an influential aide to Rep. Tom DeLay. Mr. Abramoff was chairman of Toward Tradition until 2000 and a board member until 2004.

Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty Jan. 3 to conspiracy, fraud and tax-evasion charges, and agreed to cooperate in a federal corruption probe. Now the MPA finds itself embroiled in the mess and in contact with the Justice Department. (The publishers’ association is cooperating fully, Ms. Link said, but declined to elaborate.)

A 'broad-based lobbying strategy'
Asked why the MPA gave Toward Tradition any money, Ms. Link said it was following the suggestion of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, the powerful lobbying firm then working for the association to help fight postal-rate increases. The association paid Preston Gates, where Mr. Abramoff was chief lobbyist until the end of 2000, just under $2 million from 2000 through 2003.

“It was part of a very broad-based lobbying strategy that was designed by Preston Gates, who we hired to help us with our postal issues as well as to raise our visibility in Washington, because we were one of a few media organizations that didn’t have a very high profile,” Ms. Link said. “We knew it was an unrestricted charitable donation to a nonprofit organization that was looked favorably upon by conservative Republications.”

“We believed they would spend it appropriately,” Ms. Link added.

Now that it seems Mr. Abramoff was using Toward Tradition to directly curry favor with elected officials, Ms. Link said she is outraged. “We believe we’ve been victimized,” she said. “This was a good-faith contribution. And the recent revelations are of grave concern.”

Because the “good-faith” contribution was at best a blunt attempt to win friends and influence people in Washington, good-government groups have raised their eyebrows.

'The only responsible response'
“Why is it in the interest of the MPA to donate to a group that has a mission statement that has nothing to do with the MPA mission?” asked Michael Surrusco, director of ethics campaigns, Common Cause. “For anybody else, you’d probably say this looks fishy. With Jack Abramoff, it’s definitely fishy.”

The episode has also upset at least a few association board members. “It hurts the industry,” said one board member. “It’s just generally embarrassing to have your name in the same paragraph as Jack Abramoff, which makes you look like you may have done something stupid or wrong.”

And there has been scathing mockery from other quarters. Slate's Timothy Noah, for example, wrote a piece Jan. 10 that was headlined "Magazines Bribe Too!"

The publishers’ association, which today employs three lobbying firms, will try to avoid a repeat of the episode by conducting more due diligence in the future, Ms. Link said. “That’s the only responsible response.”

Ms. Link also said the association will consider legal action against those involved.

A spokeswoman for Preston Gates did not respond to an inquiry from Advertising Age, but the firm has said it did not know that Mr. Abramoff was directing the funds to the DeLay staffer’s wife. In a long post on its Web site, Toward Tradition said that any insinuation of wrongdoing on its part is untrue and unfair.

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