- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

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 foundation 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.

The new foundation adds to Mr. Torricelli’s myriad ventures since he abandoned his 2002 Senate campaign in disgrace when the Senate Select Committee on Ethics “severely admonished” him for taking gifts from a donor.

Last year, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign identified Mr. Torricelli as one of more than 200 “hillraisers,” the term given to elite fundraisers who have pledged to gather at least $100,000 for her campaign. The campaign did not respond to questions about Mr. Torricelli’s role.

Mr. Torricelli, Mr. Jackson and the Torricelli Senate campaign fund also gave more than $10,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential exploratory fund last year. Overall, they’ve donated more than $150,000 to politicians since 2006. The FEC permits using dormant campaign money to contribute to political races.

Mr. Torricelli’s fundraising role marks perhaps his most public political role since leaving office, according to political observers.

“It’s not as though he’s persona non grata, because he’s doing a very brisk lobbying business,” said Peter J. Wooley, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “I think he’s repaired his image enough to where he can do business, but I don’t think it’s enough to where he can ever sustain a high profile.”

Added Brigid Harrison, professor of political science at Montclair State University, “His political clout did not dissipate to the extent people wouldn’t still take his phone calls.”

But Mr. Torricelli has quietly built up a successful lobbing and consulting business, which reported more than $1 million in fees from Taiwan and more than a half-dozen clients with interests in Trenton.

Mr. Torricelli and Mr. Jackson also earn hundreds of dollars an hour overseeing a massive environmental project in Jersey City. The consulting arrangement began in May 2003 after U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Cavanaugh in Newark, N.J., appointed Mr. Torricelli as special master to monitor Honeywell Corp.’s removal of chemical waste from a wetlands site in Jersey City.

As senator, Mr. Torricelli backed Judge Cavanaugh’s 2000 appointment to the federal bench.

In 2003, Mr. Torricelli told the New York Times he didn’t expect the assignment to become a full-time job but noted “it will be the largest cleanup in the nation.” The job has proven lucrative, with Mr. Torricelli’s charging $435 per hour and Mr. Jackson, a former Senate aide, being paid $300 per hour, according to court records. Combined, they worked more than 48 hours in February alone, bills show.

Honeywell doesn’t use Mr. Torricelli’s firm for lobbying. Instead, it paid $146,250 last year to Mulroy, Licausi & Gibbs LLC, whose founders include Kay Licausi, former chief of staff to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez when he served in the House.

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