Buyer Snagged in Foundation Funding Fiasco

In a bit of savvy journalism, David Smith at the Lafayette Journal & Courier is reporting that Republican Congressman Steve Buyer of Indiana’s 4th District is at the center of controversial fund-raising practices for a scholarship foundation run by his daughter Colleen Buyer and his finance director Stephanie Mattix. Steve Buyer Foundation Funding Fiasco

Basically, the Monticello-based Frontier Foundation was founded to offer scholarships to area students and, six years later, the fund has yet to offer a single dime in scholarship funds to¬† students. It has however, received upwards of $35,000 in donations made in Buyer’s name from pharmaceutical, health insurance, tobacco and telecommunications interests with bills before committees on which Buyer sits.

The J&C piece emerged following a USA Today investigation of honorary donations:

Until this year, the operations of the Frontier Foundation operated under the public radar. People in Monticello’s Twin Lakes High School, which keeps a file of scholarship resources from 55 local organizations, had not heard of it.Information about Frontier Foundation emerged in the limelight earlier this year, triggered by a 2007 federal law that required companies to report, for the first time, contributions made in honor of members of Congress.

USA Today went through the documents and compiled a list of who received the most in honorary donations in 2008.

Buyer was 13th on the list with $192,225. Two of those donations, totaling $35,000, went to the Frontier Foundation.

That this honorary donation practice is an obvious lobbying tool is interesting. That Buyer has made the most of it and helped out his daughter’s and a political associate’s charity is not surprising. But, that six years later a foundation that reports its scholarship application process to the IRS as a matter of substantiating its tax status while raising at least $100,000 per year since 2004 has yet to help a student, is appalling.

According to tax reports, the foundation has collected $830,148 in contributions, but the fair market value of its net assets was just $482,761 by the end of 2008.During six years of operation, the organization has had $258,136 in operating expenses. Those included $83,150 in fundraising expenses, $48,264 for travel, and $4,499 for meals.

Gifts and awards accounted for 3.9 percent of the foundation’s expense total. Mattix was paid more each year to run the foundation — $12,000 in 2004, rising to $17,275 in 2007 and 2008 — than the foundation gave out in six years of operation.

Perhaps most humorous about the article is the serious effort on the part of the Buyer’s press secretary to clarify that it isn’t Congressman Buyer’s foundation. But apparently the folks at Eli Lilly thought it was before they pulled the plug on a scholarship-free scholarship foundation:

The company contributed $100,000 to Frontier Foundation from 2005 to 2007, according to tax reports.Ed Sagebiel, Lilly spokesman, explained what happened.

“We have provided funding to Congressman Buyer’s foundation. We believed it to be a worthy cause,” he said.

“We have a new grants process that reviews all of our charitable contributions and that process is very competitive, and we have fewer resources, dollar resources, at this time. I just don’t think it’s made it through that process the last couple of years.”

And why wouldn’t they think it was the congressman’s foundation? The foundation used a letter on Buyer letterhead to invite contributors to a golf outing. The whole of the article can be read here.

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