Channel One’s Dirty Past Catches Up

October 16, 2006


Abramoff Probe Touches Primedia’s Channel One, MPA

by Todd Shields

OCTOBER 16, 2006 –

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates repeatedly sought payment from the Magazine Publishers of America and Primedia’s Channel One as they orchestrated lobbying campaigns in Washington, according to a Senate report.

A former Channel One executive prodded Abramoff and his associates for favorable op-eds and think-tank reports as the channel’s business model came under attack in Washington, according to the report.

Abramoff in turn asked the Primedia executive for payment, according to e-mails included as part of the 608-page report from the Senate Finance Committee.

Primedia in a statement on Friday said it “never authorized Mr. Abramoff to engage in the type of activity described in the Senate report.”

A Channel One critic seized on the report. “It speaks volumes about Channel One that it could only generate support from Jack Abramoff and his merry band of mouthpieces for rent,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a non-profit organization the describes itself as working to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere. “Channel One compels millions of children to watch ads in school each day, which is abhorrent to parents across the political spectrum.”

Primedia describes Channel One as “the largest source of news and information for young people reaching more than 7 million teens in middle schools and high schools across the country, nearly 30 percent of teenagers in the U.S.”

The Senate report, compiled by the Finance Committee’s Democratic staff, was issued Thursday with the assent of committee leaders of both parties. The report scrutinizes whether non-profit groups were improperly used as extensions of for-profit lobbying.

The report said Jeffrey Ballabon, then executive vp of public affairs for Channel One, wrote in January 1999 to Abramoff and to another lobbyist at the firm Preston Gates, where Abramoff worked, asking for support for arguments that Channel One saves tax dollars. Ballabon suggested favorable treatment by Abramoff associate and well-known conservative Grover Norquist, and by month’s end The Washington Times had published a favorable op-ed under Norquist’s byline, the report said.

Days later Abramoff in an e-mail to Ballabon suggested payment to Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform, according to the Senate report. In April, Abramoff suggested a $3,000 payment to Americans for Tax Reform as the price for a policy brief the group wrote portraying Channel One as a tax-saving service, according to the Senate report.

In May 1999, Abramoff wrote to Ballabon suggesting “5 pieces for $10K,” referring to payment for favorable op-ed and think-tank treatments of Channel One. According to the Senate report, Ballabon responded: “yup—I have not forgotten (was it $10?—I wrote it down—whatever it was, she’ll get it.”)

In a later e-mail exchange, the two discussed payment of $49,000 “to support public programs,” according to the Senate report.

Ballabon left Primedia in 2004, the company said.

According to the Senate report, a lobbyist with Abramoff’s firm suggested funneling $10,000 from a contract with the Magazine Publishers of America to the group Citizens Against Government Waste for help in devising arguments against a proposed postal rates increase.

The president of Citizens Against Government Waste, Tom Schatz, told Senate investigators the Magazine Publishers had donated to his group, but did not require any activity. Schatz said his group had a history of working on issues of perceived waste at the Postal Service, according to the Senate report.

In another e-mail exchange detailed by Senate investigators, Abramoff and associates discussed arranging a donation from the Magazine Publishers to the Seattle-based Toward Tradition, a conservative-values group which according to the Senate report served as a reliable source of favorable newspaper columns for Abramoff.

Prosecutors in January alleged Abramoff directed two payments of $25,000 each to Toward Tradition, with the understanding that group would send the money in installments to the wife of a congressional staffer whose help was sought in stopping postal rate hikes.

The MPA in January said it made a $25,000 contribution to Toward Tradition in 2000, but did not know how the money would be used. It said it may have been victimized by Abramoff.

The MPA did not immediately reply to Mediaweek’s request for comment on Friday.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy and could soon go to prison.

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