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Frist AIDS charity paid big money to inner circle

From the Associated Press:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's AIDS charity paid nearly a half-million dollars in consulting fees to members of his political inner circle, according to tax returns providing the first financial accounting of the presidential hopeful's nonprofit. [...]

World of Hope gave $3 million it raised to charitable AIDS causes, such as Africare and evangelical Christian groups with ties to Republicans — Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse and the Rev. Luis Cortes' Esperanza USA, for example.

The rest of the money went to overhead. That included $456,125 in consulting fees to two firms run by Frist's longtime political fundraiser, Linus Catignani. One is jointly run by Linda Bond, the wife of Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. [...]

Frist's lawyer Alex Vogel, according to the article "was proud that overhead costs amounted to less than $1 of every $5 raised. 'It's leaner than the average charity,' Vogel said." Now, unless I'm missing something, the lawyer's math is a bit fuzzy. According to the article, the charity raised $4.4 million; $3 million was given to charitable AIDS causes, leaving $1.4 million in overhead. If my math is correct, that's roughly 32% in overhead costs — closer to $1.50 of every $5 raised. According to Forbes, the average for charitable commitment (how much of total expenses went for charitable purpose, excluding management, overhead and fundraising) is 84%; by my math, Frist's charity is at 68%. It smells fishy to me. The AP article adds this insight from the experts:

Political experts said both the size of charity's big donations and its consulting fees raise questions about whether the tax-exempt group benefited Frist's political ambitions.

"One of the things people who are running for president try to do is keep their fundraising staff and political people close at hand. And one of the ways you can do that is by putting them in some sort of organization you run," said Larry Noble, the government's former chief election lawyer who now runs the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that studies fundraising. [...]

[Former disclosure chief for the Federal Election Commission Kent] Cooper said the consulting fees were "excessively high" and the fact that they were "paid to primarily political consultants also raises questions about the long-range strategic benefits for the 2008 presidential race."

The pursuit of power can be a very messy business.

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