MPA boss regrets $25K donation tied to lobbyist

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Magazine Publishers of America President-CEO Nina B. Link said she regrets following advice from Jack Abramoff's lobbying team to give a conservative advocacy group $25,000 in an attempt to impress powerful Washington Republicans.

In her first interview on the subject since news of the donation surfaced two weeks ago, 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 move 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.)

The MPA, Ms. Link said, 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.

Broad-based effort

"It was part of a very broad-based lobbying strategy that was designed by Preston Gates," 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.

Genevieve Woodard, a Preston Gates spokeswoman, said the firm was not to blame. "Neither the firm nor the MPA knew that Jack was diverting payments to the Congressional staffer's wife," she said. In a long post on its Web site, Toward Tradition said that any insinuation of wrongdoing on its part is untrue and unfair.

Because the contribution was at best a blunt attempt to influence people in Washington, good-government groups have raised their eyebrows. "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-ethics campaigns, Common Cause.

The episode has also upset a few association board members. "It's just generally embarrassing to have your name in the same paragraph as Jack Abramoff," said one board member.

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

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