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President of Abramoff linked nonprofit wrote editorial smearing rival of Abramoff client

John Byrne
Published: February 21, 2006

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Ridenour testifies before Senate Indian Affairs CommitteeGroup's president attacked political rival of Prime Minister who paid $2.2m for Bush visit; Denies being paid for editorial

The President of the conservative Washington nonprofit where fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff served as a director penned an editorial that smeared a political opponent of the Malaysian Prime Minister – an Abramoff client – helping the Prime Minister in a campaign to paint a political rival as an Islamic radical, RAW STORY has found.

Amy Ridenour, the president of the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy Research, denies taking money from Abramoff or Malaysia to write the article. But the recent admission by Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad that a $2.2m payment was made to Abramoff to arrange a meeting with President Bush may suggest that the Center has deeper ties.

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Ridenour founded the National Center in 1982 to support Reagan’s policies overseas. But what appeared an effort to engage in public policy debate fell into question after revelations that Abramoff funneled money through the group to pay for expensive jaunts taken by DeLay.

In 2001, Ridenour penned an editorial titled "The U.S. Must Tread Carefully to Avoid Creating More Fundamentalist Islamic Governments" in which she touted Malaysia as a "prosperous, stable and democratic state" and smeared Mahathir opponent Anwar Ibrahim as an Islamic radical.

Ridenour said Ibrahim “a former government official with close links to radical Islamic fundamentalist groups has begun an international public relations effort to destablize the government in Kuala Lumpur.”

“Anwar's jailing came after he became an open political rival of Prime Minister Mahathir, leading rallies of up of up to 50,000 people calling for political change,” Ridenour wrote. “Since then, fundamentalist Islamic student groups have taken control of student unions at most public universities, and anti-government activities have resulted.”

Ridenour’s article came amidst a climate of political unrest in Malaysia. Anwar had recently been sentenced to nine years in prison on sodomy and corruption charges. Some of the charges were later questioned after witnesses recanted confessions; the allegations were seen as a political response to rallies Anwar led that called for Matathir’s resignation and for reforms. One such rally drew 100,000 people, who marched on the Prime Minister’s residence. Soon thereafter, Anwar was arrested.

Anwar was released from prison in 2004. His opposition party called the charges a “mockery of justice.”

Ridenour's editorial was reprinted in the Washington Times. While it drew scant notice in the U.S., it produced a flurry of angry responses in the Southeast Asian nation. Anwar’s wife called Ridenour’s statements "outright lies and half-truths with certain facts."

Lim Kit Siang, a member of the Malaysian parliament, all but accused Ridenour of being paid to write the article in 2001.

Malaysians, he said, were entitled to know whether Ridenour and NCPPR "have been hired in a campaign to win the hearts of Washington, whether taxpayers' monies are involved in the retention of American lobby groups to provide ‘sweeteners’ to pave the way for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Bush, and whether the KMM and the militant Islam issues are being used to win the ear of Washington.”

"Although Amy Ridenour denies that she and her organisation had been paid by the Malaysian Government or any other entity for the outrageous report," Lim added. "She should identify who are the Malaysian officials and individuals who had fed her with the materials for her article."

Lim’s statements were precocious – just a year later, Mahathir would meet with President Bush after a payoff to Abramoff, a director on Ridenour’s board.

No evidence has emerged that Ridenour received payment for the article. But her ties to Abramoff – and the fact that her group helped channel more than $220,000 to pay for overseas trips taken by DeLay – suggest that more than her passion for policy was at play.

Ridenour did not respond to two requests for comment on this article. She has previously denied that she received any payment for its publication.

Asked Monday about payments made to Abramoff to solidify his relationship with President Bush and cement the autocratic leader’s position as a U.S. ally in the war on terror, Mahathir said money had exchanged hands but that it didn’t come from his government.

"It is true that somebody paid but it was not the (Malaysian) government," Mahathir told reporters. "I understood some people paid a sum of money to lobbyists in America but I do not know who these people were and it was not the Malaysian government."

NCPPR previously accused of improprieties

NCPPR has come under fire before for alleged quid-pro-quo. Ridenour’s group received $30,000 from Exxon Mobil in 2003 for “Envirotruth,” a website which attacks progressive and environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. The payment can be seen on page 44 of Exxon's 2003 corporate giving report.

According to SourceWatch, the site concentrates on four issues - biotech food, chlorine, climate change and polyvinylchloride. Envirotruth claims to shed "light on the environmentalist movement, offering information about their tactics, terrorist acts and fundraising machines."

NCPPR also received $25,000 from Exxon Mobil for “General Operating Support.”

A previous RAW STORY investigation found that Ridenour’s group used “scare letters” to try to accrue money from senior citizens by attempting to convince them they might lose Social Security benefits.

The group’s letters – which appeared on aggressive letterhead -- targeted seniors of both parties, aiming to convince them their Social Security benefits were in jeopardy and thereby induce them to donate money. The mailings also encouraged seniors to keep the mailing secret from others, perhaps even from family members. The “scam” letters can be seen here.

Abramoff also channeled money through the center to pay for at least $220,000 in travel for DeLay. DeLay took two trips that he put down on campaign finance forms as being paid for by the center – one to London in 2000 and another to Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1997.

An article in Monday's Roll Call reveals that an investigation into Abramoff-linked nonprofits is ongoing. Given that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee collected myriad documents from Ridenour's group and had her testify, NCPPR may be among those groups under investigation.

Muriel Kane contributed to research for this article.



 


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