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Buying Votes Through Charity: Congressional Charities Pulling in Corporate Cash

September 7, 2010

Well it’s about time mainstream media started looking at non-profits and charities as money funnels.

In this story the NYT talks about how the “evil” corporation donates tons of cash to Congressional charities. The NYT misses the other part of the story, government grants and entitlement funds going to “favorite son” charities and how that money gets funneled back to the legislator’s friends, cronies and families. Legislators are not the only ones benefiting either, State employees are getting their paychecks paid through charities receiving federal entitlement and other funds. States employees over bill the federal taxpayer and then the money for their salary comes illegally gets funneled back to them in the form of a paycheck from the charity receiving federal funds.

Note to the NYT: The use of charities and non-profits to funnel money from the federal government aka taxpayer back to state government employees and legislators and projects the federal money was never intended to be used for is a much bigger story because there’s a lot more money being funneled.

“Charitable Giving”
WASHINGTON — Representative Joe Baca has achieved near celebrity status in his suburban Los Angeles district, as much for his record of giveaways — Thanksgiving turkeys, college scholarships, spare boots for firefighters — as for anything he has done in Congress.

That generosity is made possible by the Joe Baca Foundation, a charity his family set up three years ago to aid local organizations. It provides another benefit, too: helping the Democratic congressman run something akin to a permanent political campaign.

Joe Baca T-shirts and caps are given out at the charity’s events, where banners display his name. Local newspapers mention the charity’s donations, and cable stations show appearances by Mr. Baca and his family at functions his foundation supports.

“It’s great,” said Laura Goodloe, 36, as she watched her 8-year-old son, Jordan, play at the arena in San Bernardino, Calif., where the Baca Foundation offered a free basketball clinic last month. “He is giving back to the community.”

But unlike most private foundations, Mr. Baca’s gets little of its money from its founders’ pockets. Instead, local companies and major corporations that have often turned to Mr. Baca’s Washington office for help, and usually succeed in getting it, are the chief donors.

A review by The New York Times of federal tax records and House and Senate disclosure reports found at least two dozen charities that lawmakers or their families helped create or run that routinely accept donations from businesses seeking to influence them. The sponsors — AT&T, Chevron, General Dynamics, Morgan Stanley, Eli Lilly and dozens of others — contribute millions of dollars annually in gifts ranging from token amounts to a check for $5 million.

Since 2009, businesses have sent lobbyists and executives to the plush Boulders resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a fund-raiser for the scholarship fund of Representative Steve Buyer, Republican of Indiana; sponsored a skeet shooting competition in Florida to help the favorite food bank of Representative Allen Boyd, Democrat of Florida; and subsidized a spa and speedway outing in Las Vegas to aid the charity of Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada.

Just last month, they touted their largess with flags bearing their names near the tees at a golf tournament benefiting the foundation of Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina.

Despite rules imposed in 2007 to curb the influence of special interests in Congress, corporate donations to lawmakers’ charities have continued, thanks to a provision that allows businesses to make unlimited gifts to them. And while business executives say they want to give to a good cause, their pattern of spending — contributions that often are not disclosed, in apparent violation of ethics rules — suggests another reason.

Altria, the cigarette maker, for example, sent at least $45,000 in donations over a six-week period last fall to four charitable programs founded by House members — including Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, and Mr. Clyburn, the Democratic whip — just as the company was seeking approval of legislation intended to curb illegal Internet sales of its cigarettes. An Altria spokesman said the donations were not related to the measure, which all four congressmen backed. (The other two are Mr. Boyd and Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan.)

Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy, acknowledged that the company participates in lawmakers’ charitable events in part to get access to them and push its agenda. “We are not apologetic about it at all: it is part of our overall effort to work with policy makers,” he said. “Social settings are always a good way to get to know people.” </strong

Like Mr. Baca, other members of Congress benefit from the good will that their corporate-financed philanthropy generates among voters. The lawmakers defend the donations, saying they have no influence on the politicians’ positions on legislation or policy. They also say that they typically do not serve on the charities’ governing boards or solicit contributions themselves.

“There is nothing improper here at all,” said Mark Hayes, a spokesman for Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, who helped found two Indiana nonprofit groups that are supported by corporate contributions. “They are simply causes he believes in.”

But some current and former lawmakers, as well as ethics officials on Capitol Hill, find the charitable donations troubling, calling them one of the last major unregulated fronts in the “pay to play” culture in Washington. The donations typically far exceed what companies are permitted to give to candidates in campaign contributions.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, a House oversight group, twice last year investigated lawmakers’ charities, but took no action, in part because the House granted waivers exempting the congressmen from prohibitions against soliciting donations from companies with business before their committees.

The donations by corporations and lobbyists to politicians’ favorite causes can create expectations that the lawmakers will return the favor, said Mickey Edwards, an Oklahoma Republican who served 16 years in the House.

“Almost all of these foundations, they were set up for a good purpose,” Mr. Edwards said. “But as soon as you take a donation, it creates more than just an appearance problem for the member of Congress. It is a real conflict.”

A Time for Giving

In August, with Congress in recess, the charity fund-raising effort goes into overdrive, and last month was no exception.

¶At a mountaintop resort spa in Utah, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican, hosted a golf tournament to raise money for the Utah Families Foundation, which he helped establish. Companies willing to donate at least $20,000 got to meet privately with the senator and received other perks.

The guests included executives from Cephalon and Watson Pharmaceutical, drug companies that have sought Mr. Hatch’s help in protecting them from federal regulators who have accusedthem of conspiring to delay the sale of lower cost generic drugs.

(Seven drug makers and big corporate players like Morgan Stanley, Qwest and Chevron donated enough last year to earn an invitation to the private reception, helping the charity raise a total of $900,000.)

Click here for the rest of the NYT’s story

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