Lobbyist says scandals eat up important time
By Paul Haist
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The United Jewish Community's point man on Capitol Hill says the recent scandal involving Jewish lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the trial of two former top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has not tainted the UJC or other mainstream Jewish organizations at work in Washington, but has required them to take time from other important issues.
"We are misdirected into having to deal with issues that distract us from serving the primary goals of the community," said William C. Daroff in a conversation with the Jewish Review May 4.
Daroff is the UJC's vice president for public policy and director of the national Jewish umbrella group's Washington office where he serves as chief lobbyist for North America's Jewish community federation system.
He was in Portland May 3 and 4 to meet with Jewish leaders and address Jewish groups.
Responding to questions about the Abramoff case Daroff said, "When anyone who is identified with the Jewish community is involved in scandal ? it soils the entire community. And when it's in the relatively small world of those who lobby on Capitol Hill, it makes it difficult for all the rest of us."
By way of example, he pointed to ethics-reform legislation narrowly approved in the House of Representatives May 3. The House bill, which must be reconciled with a Senate version, could have precluded non-profit groups, such as the UJC or AIPAC, from underwriting trips for members of Congress and their staffs to see firsthand situations or conditions that may require congressional attention.
"The UJC has spent hundreds if not thousands of hours trying to keep these trips, time that could be much better spent," said Daroff.
In the end, the bill did not proscribe such trips.
Daroff pointed also to financial scandals in the business world and suggested that they have taken a toll on the world of non-profits.
"In the wake of the Enron and Worldcom scandals, the push for more transparency and accountability in the private sector has evolved into a call for more transparency and accountability in the non-profit sector," said Daroff.
Without naming names, he said that "there have been a few scandals recently in the non-profit world" and that some lawmakers have "overreacted" with legislative initiatives calling for closer scrutiny of the non-profit world.
"The answer for non-profits is to stay ahead of the curve, engage in best practices ? abide by not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law," said Daroff.
In Portland, Daroff addressed the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland group called Solomon's Legacy, a group for law professionals, and the JFGP Community Relations Committee.
He spoke with JFGP Executive Vice President Charles R. Schiffman and also visited Cedar Sinai Park, the Jewish community's facility for seniors. Daroff and CSP Chief Executive Officer David Fuks are active with the UJC's domestic affairs and public policy panels.
Much of Daroff's work in the nation's capital has to do with issues of aging.
"The Jewish population (in America) is disproportionately older than society in general," he said, "which gives us the opportunity to deal with many of these issues (of aging) ahead of the curve."
Specific issues he's working on include what he called "aging in place" and facilitating the provision of long-term care insurance.
Steps that may help older Americans stay out of institutions for the aging include creating circumstances that benefit naturally occurring retirement communities, according to Daroff.
He described how these so-called NORCs emerge.
"There are people who moved into a neighborhood or building 25 years ago and, for whatever reason?, don't move out. So, 25 years later, a building that had a bunch of 40-year-olds in it now has a bunch of 65-year-olds," said Daroff.
He said that federally funded NORC programs bring services to the people in these communities.
"You treat them as a community of older adults. It's innovative, cutting-edge and keeps people from being institutionalized longer, and (it) brings efficiencies," Daroff explained.
He said Portland's Jewish Family and Child Service operates one such program here.
JFCS Program Services Director Marian Fenimore confirmed that JFCS received a federal grant to conduct a needs assessment for a NORC largely comprising Russian immigrants along Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. JFCS is partnering with other helping agencies to develop additional funding for the program.
Daroff also is urging Congress and the administration to promote long-term care insurance.
Proposals to address the problem include possible tax breaks for employers who provide such insurance, and tax deductions for individuals who purchase such insurance, according to Daroff.
According to Daroff, the main focus of the UJC in Washington now is on health care and aging, as the Baby Boom generations reach retirement age, a situation he described as "a perfect storm" for those who provide services to the aging.
Daroff is an attorney who previously served as deputy executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, where he served initially as the group's director of congressional affairs.
He also served as deputy executive director of the Jewish Policy Center, a leading politically conservative think tank for Jewish ideas.
On his first trip to Oregon, Daroff said he was "very impressed."
"The community seems very vital. The staff at the federation seemed very professional," he said.
Daroff also expressed pleasant surprise at having been brought a kosher chicken dinner by Rabbi Chayim Mishulovin of Chabad Lubavitch of Oregon.