Tor­ri­celli cam­paign funds move into his foun­da­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - From Page One - By Jim McElhatton

LAM­BERTVILLE, N.J. — For­mer Sen. Robert G. Tor­ri­celli, a top fundraiser for Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, is send­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in do­na­tions from his 2002 Se­nate cam­paign to a private foun­da­tion reg­is­tered in his name and based out of his New Jer­sey lob­by­ing of­fice — an ar­range­ment that trou­bles cam­paign-fi­nance and tax ex­perts.

Fed­eral elec­tion rules al­low for­mer elected of­fi­cials to use sur­plus cam­paign money on char­i­ta­ble causes, though Mr. Tor­ri­celli’s Rose­mont Foun­da­tion, which re­ceived $1.5 mil­lion in cam­paign cash last year, has not yet been granted tax-ex­empt sta­tus.

An­gelo Gen­ova, an at­tor­ney for Mr. Tor­ri­celli, said the foun­da­tion’s ap­pli­ca­tion for non­profit sta­tus is pend­ing, adding that it was “es­tab­lished within all rules and reg­u­la­tions.”

Both Mr. Tor­ri­celli’s lob­by­ing firm, Rose­mont As­so­ciates, and the Rose­mont Foun­da­tion are based at the same ad­dress in Lam­bertville, about 15 miles north of Tren­ton. A lob­by­ing firm part­ner runs Mr. Tor­ri­celli’s 2002 cam­paign fund.

Ex­perts said that al­though the trans­fer of cam­paign funds to a private foun­da­tion in Mr. Tor­ri­celli’s name is le­gal, the ties among the cam­paign fund, the for­mer sen­a­tor’s lob­by­ing busi­ness and new foun­da­tion raise ques­tions about whether the char­ity can steer clear of pol­i­tics.

The IRS pro­hibits tax-ex­empt char­i­ties from cam­paign­ing for or against politi­cians.

“There are thou­sands of wor­thy char­i­ties that would gladly ac­cept a con­tri­bu­tion from a politi­cian’s dor­mant cam­paign com­mit­tee and could take the money al­most im­me­di­ately and put it to use,” said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the non­par­ti­san Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

“What’s the need to cre­ate yet an­other foun­da­tion in or­der to make those do­na­tions? Why cre­ate a mid­dle­man? Mov­ing leftover cam­paign money into a foun­da­tion housed with a lob­by­ing firm doesn’t put to rest con­cerns that the cam­paign cash will go to­ward ben­e­fit­ing the firm’s clients and build­ing the lob­by­ist’s clout,” he said.

Frances Hill, a non­profit tax spe­cial­ist and law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami, said she wouldn’t al­low a client to base a non­profit from the same ad­dress as a lob­by­ing firm.

“It’s about ap­pear­ance,” she said. “They have to be very care­ful that they’re not just fu­el­ing his con­sult­ing busi­ness and dis­tribut­ing char­i­ta­ble grants to or­ga­ni­za­tions that agree with his po­si­tions.”

Mr. Tor­ri­celli’s lob­by­ing as­so­ci­ate and cam­paign trea­surer, Sean Jack­son, re­ferred ques­tions about the Rose­mont Foun­da­tion to Mr. Gen­ova, who said the foun­da­tion would not jeop­ar­dize its tax-ex­empt sta­tus by en­gag­ing in im­proper po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

“There is no in­come, ex­pen­di­ture or other ac­tiv­ity in 2007 to re­port other than le­gal fees re­lat­ing to the es­tab­lish­ment of the foun- da­tion and the re­ceipt of the ex­cess cam­paign funds as al­ready re­ported to the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion,” he said.

Mr. Gen­ova also said the foun­da­tion will file a tax re­turn next month cov­er­ing the 2007 cal­en­dar year. He said the foun­da­tion will sup­port the Betty Tor­ri­celli In­sti­tute for Breast Care, land con­ser­va­tion and an­i­mal rights.

The IRS and the FEC de­clined to com­ment on the ar­range­ment. But the trans­fer could pose le­gal prob­lems if the foun­da­tion’s tax ap­pli­ca­tion is re­jected, a sce­nario Mr. Gen­ova deemed un­likely.

“If they’re not ap­proved, they could have po­ten­tial IRS prob­lems and po­ten­tial FEC prob­lems,” said Michael Toner, a for­mer FEC chair­man ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Bush.

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