Frist's Charity Under Scrutiny

In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist speaks from the floor of the Senate Friday, July 29, 2005, in Washington in support of legislation to remove some of the current administration's limitations on embryonic stem cell research. Frist, an abortion opponent who just last month said he did not support expanding federal financing of research on embryos, said his decision was consistent with both his experience as a physician and his anti-abortion stance. (AP Photo/APTN) AP /APTN

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.

The returns for World of Hope Inc., obtained by The Associated Press, also show the charity raised the lion's share of its $4.4 million from just 18 sources. They gave between $97,950 and $267,735 each to help fund Frist's efforts to fight AIDS.

The tax forms, filed nine months after they were first due, do not identify the 18 major donors by name.

Frist's lawyer, Alex Vogel, said Friday that he would not give their names because tax law does not require their public disclosure. Frist's office provided a list of 96 donors who were supportive of the charity, but did not say how much each contributed.

The donors included several corporations with frequent business before Congress, such as insurer Blue Cross/Blue Shield, manufacturer 3M, drug maker Eli Lilly and the Goldman Sachs investment firm.

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.

The charity also hired the law firm of Vogel's wife, Jill Holtzman Vogel, and Frist's Tennessee accountant, Deborah Kolarich.

Kolarich's name recently surfaced in an e-mail involving Frist's controversial sale of stock in his family founded health care company. That transaction is now under federal investigation.

Jill Holtzman Vogel, who is raising money for a run for the state Senate in Virginia in 2007, has received thousands in contributions this year from Catignani & Bond and from her husband, among numerous other sources, according to data released by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Alex Vogel said Frist picked people to work on his charity whom he trusted and knew, such as Vogel's wife, and was proud that overhead costs amounted to less than $1 of every $5 raised. "It's leaner than the average charity," Vogel said.

Frist is listed as the charity's president and his wife was listed as secretary. Neither was compensated.

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.
  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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