Back in college, I had a friend. Let’s call him “Dom.” Dom wasn’t one who was much given to following society’s “rules” or obeying its “laws.” He had a simple rule when it came to potential repercussions for his transgressions: “deny, deny, deny.” One time he told me, “I don’t care if they have you on tape. Deny it. ‘I don’t know what this is! That isn’t me!'”
So, naturally, I thought of Dom when TPMMuckraker followed up on its coverage of the Buyer/Frontier Foundation story:
And the award for boldest denial in the face of evidence of financial mischief goes to … Rep. Steve Buyer!
. . .
He and his office have repeatedly denied that the Frontier Foundation has any special connection to Buyer.”
To recap: There are campaign finance laws in place. They exist to avoid undue influence by individuals and corporations over elected officials who are in a position to do them favors. One dodge to these campaign finance laws is for moneyed interests to contribute to non-profit organizations closely associated with the elected officials. Those organizations can, in turn, employ family members, pay for travel and dining expenses under the guise of helping the organization, and, potentially, create a nest egg the elected official can use after retiring from office – perhaps becoming employed at a nice salary to “manage” the organization. In Buyer’s case, the Frontier Foundation was ostensibly created for the purpose of providing scholarships to Indiana students. Despite taking in donations from lobbying organizations having to do with the pharmaceutical and broadcast industries for years, the Foundation has yet to provide a scholarship.
Buyer’s claims that he has no special connection to the Frontier Foundation is ridiculous. TPM Muckraker has provided a handy list of some of the reasons why:
*The foundation shares an address and phone number with Buyer’s campaign headquarters on North Main Street in Monticello, IN.
*Buyer’s daughter Colleen was the president of the foundation until August 1 of this year.
*His son Ryan is a director of the foundation, according to filings with the Indiana Secretary of State.
*Answering the phone number of the campaign office (and foundation) today, Stephanie Mattix, until recently the secretary-treasurer of the foundation, told TPMmuckraker that the foundation shares the office but works out of “a separate room.”
*The real estate company that owns the space says the lease is for Buyer, and adds that the foundation is not subleasing the space. Mattix told TPMmuckraker, though, that the foundation does pay rent.
*While drawing an annual salary in the $12,000-$17,000 range from the foundation, Mattix also served as the executive director of Buyer’s Storm Chasers PAC. She is currently the finance director of his campaign and the webmaster of the campaign Web site.
*Buyer was listed as the “honorary chairman” of the foundation on a 2004 donor solicitation, sent from Buyer’s office, the Lafayette Journal & Courier reported.
*Companies have made donations to the Frontier Foundation “in honor of” Buyer.
One of the amazing things is just how little effort Buyer has made to dress this foundation up into something that looks vaguely above board. It would take very little to put a veneer of plausible deniability on this thing. Get a P.O. Box. Sign up for a different phone number. Give out a couple of scholarships. Do that, and suddenly you’re in the gray areas of how close a relationship is “too close” and how little scholarship money is “too little.”
At the moment, he looks like he is being just a little too greedy and a little too brazen for his own good. As a resident of this district, it seems too much to ask to get new representation. It’s very unlikely that a Democrat will win in this district. For good or bad, that’s just the nature of the district drawing game. More frustrating, in my opinion, is the acquiescence of the local GOP. There are plenty of honest, smart Republicans around here. One of them should really be moving to take his place.
Update Looks like Rep. Buyer is changing his tune about having a special relationship to the Frontier Foundation. In a soft ball piece run by the Monticello rag, Buyer is suddenly very closely involved with the Foundation.
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.
But, now that the heat is on, October 14, 2009 in an “exclusive interview” with his friendly hometown newspaper, the Monticello Herald Journal, Buyer is “creating a sustainable foundation.” He founded the organization. Everything in the article speaks to (now that it’s abundantly obvious) an extremely close relationship between Buyer and the Frontier Foundation. He says that he didn’t give out any scholarships or really advertise its existence because he wanted the organization to stockpile a bunch of cash. That part I believe. It’s the part where he intended to give out a bunch of scholarships with no intent of enriching himself or his family where I get a little skeptical, particularly given his rapid shift in stories about his involvement with the organization.
Why are The Indpls Star and Gary Welsh squelching this story? When will the House Ethics Committee investigate this phony foundation set up to further Buyer’s political career?
William Hickock says
In the old west, thieves were routinely hung from trees by the neck until dead and then the carcasses were left as a warning to the other thieves…….
The “exclusive” article in the Monticello Buyer Journal makes me ashamed to say I live there.
It’s about the most ridiculous puff piece I think I’ve ever seen in a newspaper.
It would be interesting to know what the application process is for a high school senior to receive an actual scholarship from this ‘charity’.
Do they make scholarship applications readily available to high school seniors?
Maybe we should spread the word among seniors desiring scholarships?
There could be tax issues for Buyer and the foundation. Assuming that it files taxes as a 501(c)(3) non-profit (I think this would be a private foundation, not a public charity), there are specific tests an entity must pass for tax-exempt status. One of them is the political test, which prohibits the organization from participating in a political campaign. I don’t know how the IRS defines participation, but there is at least a cloud over that prong if the foundation shares office space with a political campaign.
There is also a requirement to show annual distribution of income for charitable purposes.
I am with Doug in that I have no idea how common this is among elected officials, but if the Foundation has engaged in campaign activity, and has never distributed income for a charitable purpose as defined by the I.R.C., then it appears this may go beyond the unethical and into the criminal.
Well, a previous article said they had distributed some of the money – not to scholarships but to, for example, the National Rifle Association (or perhaps some offshoot) for help with gun education.
IRC defines charitable purpose as: “The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.”
The education angle is probably what qualifies, though I am not sure this is entirely what was envisioned by the rule.
He still may have a political campaign issue.
good post — this is truly appalling — buyer should be run out of town for this bs
We need an honest person in this position. Buyer should not be re-elected.