If you can’t drink a lobbyist’s whiskey, take his money, sleep with his women and still vote against him in the morning, you don’t belong in politics.—Jesse Unruh (1922-1987), Speaker of California State Assembly
Steve Buyer (IN-04), however, isn’t notable for voting against them. Then again, I suppose, I haven’t heard much about him drinking their whiskey or sleeping with their women, so maybe it’s a package deal. Buyer figured prominently in a USA Today story about lobbyist largesse when it comes to politicians’ pet foundations.
Amgen, a biotech giant, donated generously to the Frontier Foundation, a non-profit agency whose president is, or at least was, Buyer’s daughter. Its secretary/treasurer is his campaign manager. The charity’s mailing address is the same as Buyer’s campaign office. Frontier’s purpose is ostensibly to provide college scholarships. In a stunning coincidence, Buyer is on the House panel that regulates the drug industry.
Buyer, who has worked on health policy in Congress for years, helped kill a provision in 2007 opposed by drug companies and broadcasters that would have imposed a three-year ban on advertising new drugs, congressional records show. Consumer advocates, including the Consumers Union, pushed the measure, arguing that aggressive drug pitches unduly sway patients to seek treatment from drugs before their safety records have been established.
During debate by a Commerce subcommittee, Buyer co-sponsored an amendment that stripped the advertising ban from a larger bill overhauling the Food and Drug Administration.
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.”
Correlation does not equal causation, but when you see one, you start looking for the other. We’re at least up to the “appearance of impropriety” level but probably short of proof of any actual impropriety.
A commenter to the related story in the Lafayette Journal & Courier (I’m not sure how to link directly to the story) suggests that the Frontier Foundation does not, in fact, provide much in the way of scholarship support. The Foundation’s 2007 return is here.
If I’m reading the return correctly, and I hasten to add that I’m no accountant, the Foundation used 16% of its assets ($44,000) for exempt charitable purposes — presumably scholarship(s). I was able to obtain some information about the scholarship at nonprofit expert.com:
Frontier Foundation, Inc.
Contact: Stephanie Mattix, Secy.-Treas.
200 N. Main St.
Monticello, IN 47960-2131
Telephone: (574) 870-4565
Scholarship awards to graduating seniors at Indiana high schools with a
2.75 GPA or better, planning to enter college, university, or vocational
school; some giving for human services.
That mailing address, as I mentioned, is the same mailing address as listed for the Buyer for Congress campaign office. Buyer’s previous rhetorical question and answer should, therefore, be amended:
helpprovide office space to the foundation? Yes, I do. Do I helpprovide office space to other charity groups? Yes, I do.[Indiscernible mumbling]”
A 2003 faxed copy of the scholarship application is attached to the 2007 tax return. It indicates that two scholarships would be given out each year, one to a male and one to a female. The scholarship is worth $10,000 if the recipient pledges “to stay in Indiana for one year” and $20,000 if the recipient pledges to stay for two years.
But, Part XV of the return, where I expected to read information about grants and contributions paid during the year, listed none. I presume without knowing, though, that the foundation went ahead and gave out a couple of scholarships. I don’t suppose anyone has seen any Frontier Foundation press releases?
Pharmaceutical companies (and telecomm companies) however, appear very interested in the well being of Indiana high school seniors with a 2.75 gpa or better (for 2007):
Astra Zenica $15,000
Eli Lilly $25,000
Nat’l Association of Broadcasters $25,000
Meanwhile, the Foundation had to spend $25,000 on “travel for fundraising.” Now, I think it would be a crying shame if a politician and/or his friends, family, and well-wishers had to travel to some inconvenient place — preferably warm, sunny, and golf course friendly — just to raise money for some C+ high school students.
Steve Buyer is far from the only politician with captive charities to whom lobbyists donate generously. But, he’s my representative, and he figured prominently in the USA Today story. This highlights how difficult it is to shine a spotlight on the cozy relationships between lobbyists and politicians. And, for the record, I don’t want to demonize lobbyists. They have a shady reputation and, to a large extent, a good number of them have earned it. But, they have a legitimate purpose.
Politicians need information about the things they seek to govern. Representatives from the groups who are directly concerned can provide that information. Ideally, all stakeholders are providing the politician with information so the politician can make an informed decision. The problem comes when the politician comes to value the information from one or a limited number of lobbyists based on criteria other than the quality of their information — say because he likes to talk to you about donations to your favorite foundation while you’re on your favorite golf course. When that happens, ordinary citizens, or even honest but disfavored lobbies, start figuring they can’t get a fair shake. That’s not healthy for our democratic institutions.
And now for something completely different. Rep. Buyer’s rant about smoking lettuce (that’s not a typo) is The Daily Show’s Moment of Zen:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Moment of Zen – Smoking Lettuce|