Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Buyer Bailed Out? Time Will Tell
On March 30, several media outlets reported that the Office of Congressional Ethics had refused to pursue claims by a watchdog group that there was something fishy about Steve Buyer's Frontier Foundation. Read the original blog posts from this blog here and here as well as a CBS Evening News report linked here.
You may remember the story. The charity was started and run out of Buyer's Monticello Congressional Office to award scholarships to needy high school students. Initially, Buyer denied any involvement with the group, but it became clear that he did, in fact, have some involvement.
See, the thing is, when you start a foundation to award scholarships, you might think it would award scholarships. Unfortunately, well...the foundation had yet to award a scholarship after over seven years in existence and over $800,000 in donations. Many of those donations came from special interests that Buyer would possibly see legislation from...you know...the pharmaceutical lobby, big tobacco, and the like. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) hired Buyer's son, Ryan, as a federal affairs manager. And the Foundation paid out money to send the Congressman on golf outings and the like. In short, it just didn't look good.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into Buyer's practices, but they also have asked the IRS to look into it as well. The Frontier Foundation enjoys tax exempt status, and CREW wants the IRS to see if the Frontier Foundation is “failing to operate for its stated public purpose of helping needy students and by doing little more than paying for the congressman to play golf with donors with interests before his committee.”
So, it appears that there's still a game in town here. Buyer, in his defense, maintains that once the group hits $1 million in donations that it will be self-sustaining. Magically, I guess. Anyway, that's his story, and he's sticking to it.
One way or another, something still seems to smell to me on this story, and I don't think Buyer should be issuing proclamations of complete innocence, yet. Just because the ethics folks decided that they wouldn't look at the case doesn't mean that the actions look good or that things are in perfect order here. I guess we'll wait to see what, if anything, the IRS has to say about this.
In short, if you've heard the hype that the Buyer story is over, then don't believe it. Although, I must admit, with the Congressman retiring when his successor (one of 16 currently running for the seat from both parties) is sworn in next year, that the case has probably lost a little steam.