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US: Lobbyist's Work for Publishers of Magazines Under Scrutiny

by By Katherine Q. Seelye KATHARINE Q. SEELYEThe New York Times
January 9th, 2006

The press has spilled plenty of ink writing about Jack Abramoff, the powerful Washington lobbyist at the center of an extensive corruption scandal. But little noticed is that among Mr. Abramoff's many clients was the press itself, at least part of it. In 2000, he represented the Magazine Publishers Association, and it turns out that some of the association's money may have been funneled to Mr. Abramoff's political allies.

In documents last week in which Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials, he revealed that he and an unidentified Congressional aide worked to stave off an increase in postal rates - a significant benefit for an industry that depends on the postal service.

The plea document said that Mr. Abramoff and the Congressional aide performed "a series of official acts, including assisting in stopping legislation regarding Internet gambling and opposing postal rate increases."

The corruption scandal could involve dozens of members of Congress, political operatives and lobbyists suspected of arranging bribes in exchange for favorable legislation and other benefits.

The magazine association paid at least $1.4 million from 2000 to 2003 to Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, the lobbying firm where Mr. Abramoff was the chief lobbyist.

Howard Rubenstein, the public relations executive who represents the association, said the amount was $1.8 million; a spokeswoman for Preston Gates put the amount at $1.4 million.

The money was part of a broader, $10 million campaign by the association to keep postal rates down, explore reform of the postal system and seek alternate means of delivering magazines.

Mr. Abramoff left the firm at the end of 2000 and the association stopped using Preston Gates in 2003. But, Mr. Rubenstein said, "Jack Abramoff was one of a number of people at Preston Gates who worked on the M.P.A. account."

The postal rate increases were deferred while the association was a client of Mr. Abramoff, but that deferment was short-lived. The rates went up 10 percent in June 2002, costing the magazine industry an additional $200 million a year; they went up again yesterday, for an estimated additional cost of $180 million a year.

It is not clear who did what for whom in terms of staving off the rate increase, but Mr. Rubenstein said that magazine officials were "deeply disturbed by the recent allegations concerning Abramoff's conduct and they are in the process of looking into the nature of his involvement in Preston Gate's work on behalf of M.P.A."

He declined to say whether the Justice Department had interviewed association officials, but said those officials "feel they may be one of the victims and will cooperate fully" with the investigation.

The magazine association made another payment that is under scrutiny.

In 2000, the association made a $25,000 contribution to a nonprofit group called Toward Tradition, an alliance of Jews and evangelical Christians, based on what Mr. Rubenstein called a directive from Preston Gates. People involved in the investigation have said that Mr. Abramoff funneled money through Toward Tradition to the wife of his associate, Tony C. Rudy, a former top aide to Representative Tom Delay, Republican of Texas.

"They had absolutely no knowledge of how that money would be used, and if it turns out that it was used for an improper purpose, the M.P.A. would be, quite frankly, outraged," Mr. Rubenstein said.

Genevieve Woodard, a spokeswoman for Preston Gates, said, "neither the firm nor the M.P.A. knew that Jack was diverting payments to the Congressional staffer's wife."

Postal rates are a central concern to publishers. "We actually spend more on postage than we do on paper," Ann Moore, chairman and chief executive of, said last year at a forum on the subject. "Mail is our single largest line item expense, so this really threatens our business."



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