I’M NOT SURE IF THIS IS A REAL SCANDAL, but it doesn’t look very good:

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. . . .

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.

On the other hand, it may not be that unusual:

“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.

Nonetheless, it seems a bit iffy, to say the least.

UPDATE: Reader Justin VanNingen is skeptical:

The AP story about Bill Frist’s charity giving money to groups with “Republican Ties” makes this look more like a hit piece than decent reporting.

First off, a simple Google search on “Esperanza USA” shows (3rd listed!) that Howard Dean met with Esparanza USA’s head Rev. Cortes and endorsed them. This happened just over one month ago.

Second, Samaritan’s Purse is an Evangelical group whose head is Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham — a Democrat. SP does not have a track record of getting into politics like Focus on the Family or CBN.

If this is what counts as a scandal in DC these days, the country must be doing alright. Either that, or the AP is desperate.

Either of those is possible, of course. Joe Gandelman, meanwhile, is more critical, and has a big roundup on the subject. Lots of politicians have semi-captive nonprofits, though they’re more often think-tank-like operations. To some degree, of course, this is just more evidence that the nonprofit sector needs more scrutiny; whether there’s more to this story, well, we’ll see.