Five conservative nonprofit groups laundered money and wrote opinion pieces for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and sold their influence with U.S. government officials, according to a Senate report.

The Senate Finance Committee said in the report released on Thursday that the five groups probably violated their tax-exempt status by working closely with Abramoff, the lobbyist at the center of a growing corruption scandal.

“These tax-exempt organizations engaged in what amounted to profit-seeking and private benefit behavior inconsistent with their tax-exempt status,” said the report, which was prepared by the Democratic committee staff and approved by its Republican chairman, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley.

By abusing their nonprofit status, “these tax-exempt organizations appear to have perpetrated a fraud on other taxpayers,” the report said.

The five groups named in the report are Americans for Tax Reform, headed by influential conservative activist Grover Norquist; the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which was founded by Gale Norton before she became Secretary of the Interior; Citizens Against Government Waste, which fights “pork barrel” spending; the National Center for Public Policy Research, a think tank; and Toward Tradition, a religious group.

According to the report, some of the groups laundered money from Abramoff’s lobbying clients and took payments to write newspaper opinion pieces. Some took payments from Abramoff’s lobbying clients in return for introducing them to prominent Bush administration officials, while others underwrote trips for members of Congress that were actually paid for with money from Abramoff lobbying clients.

All except Toward Tradition told The Washington Post that they have done nothing wrong.

Abramoff and several associates have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud in an influence-peddling scandal and are cooperating with investigators in the Justice Department.

Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney has agreed to plead guilty to illegally accepting trips, meals, drinks and tickets from Abramoff and his lobbyists and was due to appear in court later on Friday to formally enter his plea. David Safavian, a former Bush administration official, was convicted in June of lying about his links to Abramoff.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, resigned from his seat in June after his close ties with Abramoff were made public.

© 2006 Reuters

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