The government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is urging the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate a planned AIDS fund-raiser by majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to be held in conjunction with the Republican National Convention in New York City that may violate campaign finance laws, the Tennessean reports. Frist's nonprofit foundation, World of Hope, is planning to hold a concert and reception at Rockefeller Center on the first day of the convention and aims to raise $2 million for five AIDS charities in the United States and Uganda.
But CREW claims the event is a "cover" for the Republican Party to evade soft money contributions by allowing large donors, most of whom CREW says will be lobbyists, access to influential lawmakers. The event, they say, also 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. "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. "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."
CREW is calling on the Senate committee to investigate the planned event and impose penalties to "prevent senators from exploiting charitable organizations for political gain." A Frist spokesman says the Senate majority leader believes the event does not violate either campaign finance or IRS regulations.