It didn’t take long. That tiny blip on the Buyer screen grew a lot over the weekend as The Indianapolis Star and msnbc looked into The Front Foundation.
The Star’s Sunday edition cover story made two points very clearly. First that while his press secretary made every effort to deny that the Front Foundation was the congressman’s, he now has been forced to admit it is his and it:
is made up solely of people with close ties to him, including his daughter, Colleen, who was president until 2008 but who remains on the board; son Ryan; Maria Vandersande, a former press secretary in his congressional office; and Sandra Danford, who joined in August as the lone paid staffer and replaced Mattix.
Buyer said there currently is no board president and his children have never been paid, though the foundation’s 2003 tax filings show a $2,250 payment to Colleen Buyer. The congressman serves as honorary chairman and says he takes no part in day-to-day activities.
Secondly, Buyer clearly recognizes this as a lobbying opportunity for special interests with business before his committees.
Asked if the foundation could raise funds without the pricey golf outings, Buyer said that “donors expect a meaningful experience.”
That meaningful experience, however, includes access to something valuable: a congressman’s time.
“This is another loophole that special interests use to buy access and influence. Certainly their hope is that by donating this money to Congressman Buyer’s private foundation, that he will be more accessible to them,” said Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for Common Cause, a nonpartisan group founded to hold elected leaders accountable to the public interestNearly all of the $883,272 the foundation has raised came from groups that have issues before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which Buyer is a member.
The most generous single contributor was the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — the trade association for brand-name drug companies, known as PhRMA — which gave $200,000.
Follow that with msnbc’s Rachel Maddow taking up the story on Monday’s broadcast has made it a nationally recognized story:
The Indianapolis Star again today took up the story, in what is certainly a criticism of the congressman but tepidly so, entitled today’s editorial “Lets see good deeds, Mr. Buyer.” At least they recognize the inapproapriate lobyyist end-around-play that is inherent in this Front Foundation.
Even if we take him at his word that U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer wants only to provide deserving young Hoosiers with opportunities, we can’t help noticing to whom the opportunities have gone so far.The Frontier Foundation, established by the Fourth District Republican in 2003 with the mission of providing scholarships, has come under fire for what it has given, what it has not given and what it has taken.
No scholarships have been handed out, but $10,500 has been donated by the foundation to various causes. The American Red Cross is one. So are the National Rifle Association and a cancer fund run by the chief Washington lobbyist for Eli Lilly and Co. The last sum — $4,500 — was returned because Lilly is a supporter of the foundation.
As The Star’s Mary Beth Schneider and Maureen Groppe detailed Sunday, Lilly has lots of company. Of the more than $880,000 raised by the foundation, virtually all has come from 20 companies and trade organizations that have business with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Buyer serves.
The largess is cultivated at golf outings at luxury resorts, attended by Buyer at foundation expense.
One hopes that The Star and other organizations will continue the vigilant scrutiny of this Front Foundation and that the congressman will have to start playing golf on public courses, perhaps with say constituents or at least students.