Rep. Steve Buyer (IN-04; R-Monticello) has recently gotten some attention for a charity he operates which doesn't seem to meet the smell test. It shares office space with Buyer's campaign office and is staffed by his family and people associated with his campaigns. It has taken in quite a bit of money over the last five or six years, almost exclusively from lobbying interests, but has given out very little - and none in the form of scholarships which is ostensibly the purpose of the charity. Initially, when this issue was raised in a USA Today article last June, Buyer was mentioned as one of several Congressman doing this sort of thing. He denied any special involvement with the Foundation. When the issue resurfaced a week or so ago through the work of the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Buyer was still taking the "not my Foundation" approach. As other news outlets, including TPM Muckraker, pressed on the obvious connections and how ridiculous his position was, Buyer shifted gears, acknowledging it as his Foundation. Now, his approach is to say that he works very hard for a good cause and gets suspicion in return. He is wounded.
More detail after the jump.
I'd lay my head on the railroad tracks
And wait for the Double "E"
But the railroad don't run no more
Poor, poor pitiful me
Poor, poor pitiful me
Poor, poor pitiful me
These lobbyists won't let me be
Lord have mercy on me
Woe is me
(With apologies to the late, great Warren Zevon.) The Indianapolis Star finally gets into the act and covers Rep. Steve Buyer's uncharity, the Frontier Foundation. A Foundation controlled by Buyer taking in large sums of money from corporate interests, ostensibly for scholarships, though it hasn't actually provided any scholarship money.
In response, Rep. Buyer goes to the "woe is me" routine he first trotted out in the puff interview with the Monticello Herald Journal. He works so hard and so selflessly for this charity, you see, that he is wounded by critics who would suspect him of anything unpleasant. This is a jarring departure from his previous position -- one not apparently pursued in the Indianapolis Star article -- that the Frontier Foundation was not an organization with which he had any special involvement.
June 2008. The Frontier Foundation is just another charity Rep. Buyer helps:
In an interview, Buyer said "there is no connection" between his legislative actions and donations to the foundation. "I’m not an officer. I’m not a board director," he said of his role in the non-profit. "Do I help the foundation? Yes, I do. Do I help other charity groups? Yes, I do."
October 11, 2009. Still in denial.
Attempts to reach Buyer for comment were unsuccessful. His press secretary referred questions to Frontier Foundation and said there was no connection between Buyer and the foundation.
"It’s not Congressman Buyer’s foundation," press secretary Anjulen Anderson said.
Buyer is, of course, inseparable from the Foundation. With no Buyer, there is no Foundation. Its board is made up entirely of Rep. Buyer's friends and family. It shares office space with his campaign office, etc. Aside from letting him off the hook on this abrupt about face, the Indy Star article does a pretty good job of describing where the money comes from and where it has gone.
• Pharmaceutical interests: $465,000.
• Telecommunications interests: $215,148.
• Tobacco and alcohol interests: $65,000.
• Health insurers: $60,000.
• Other: $53,124.
• Unknown: $25,000.
There have been $10,500 in distributions, primarily to a foundation run by an Eli Lilly lobbyist, the NRA, and a guy in Monticello who had a fire. The "charity" is purportedly for providing scholarships to Hoosier students with a 2.75 g.p.a. An advertisement for the scholarship was attached to the 2007 tax return (page 22 or so). It said two scholarships of $10,000 were available. However, a total of $0 (not a typo) has been devoted to scholarships for the period 2003 - 2008. Most of the expenditures have been expenses, including a lot of what are described as fund raising expenses in the form of golf outings in swanky locations:
In 2004, the first Frontier Foundation golf fundraising event was held at the Fenwick Country Club in New York. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, Buyer said, the golf outings were held at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. The outings in 2008 were at Atlantis and the Boulders resort in Phoenix, and at Boulders and Disney World this year.
But if we think the Bahamas or Disney World are "fun," we are sorely mistaken, says Rep. Buyer. It's hard work! And for this selfless labor, what does Rep. Buyer get? (Aside from the trips -- which he hates). He is made to suffer the slings and arrows of journalists, Democrats, and random bloggers. The Indy Star article quotes a fundraising professional who suggests it's not out of line to try to stockpile a bunch of cash before handing out money in order to make the charity sustainable; though, apparently, staffing the board with family members and fund raising through destination golfing isn't typically the best way to do things.
The big problem in all of this, of course, is the source of the funding. It's coming from people doing business with the United States Congress for whom Buyer is in a position to do favors. He says he's not. And, I very much suspect that Rep. Buyer would be favorably inclined toward these huge corporate interests even without the giving. But you can't expect people to trust their Congressman when an organization entirely controlled by him is taking in large sums of money from lobbyists and not distributing it except to go golfing.