Journalism in the Public Interest

Corporations Donate in Honor of Lawmakers to Win Favors: More in Money and Politics


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Though scrutiny of ethics violations and conflicts of interest would seem to be at a high in Washington right now, nearly a dozen current or former lawmakers have university endowments that are financed with help from corporations seeking to win their favor, reported The New York Times.

It’s not the same thing as a direct campaign requirement — or, for that matter, a Caribbean vacation — but critics and watchdog groups told the Times it’s just another, “less visible” way for corporations to curry favor with lawmakers.

For instance, as we’ve noted, Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat and former head of the House Ways and Means Committee, had one such endowment in his honor and sent letters on Congressional letterhead to companies with business before his committee in order to solicit donations in his honor. Rangel will soon face a public trial before the House Ethics Committee.

The Times pointed out that Rangel was more explicit about linking his Congressional office to the endowments, while other lawmakers have been more careful. But they’ll still make occasional mention of the endowments — announcing their creation or thanking donors — while in office.

What’s more, such endowments have mostly remained under the ethics radar, without limits or disclosure requirements:

There is no comprehensive list of these programs, since members of Congress are not required to disclose them. Several lawmakers and universities declined requests by The New York Times and other newspapers to reveal a full list of donors or fund-raising events that the members of Congress participated in

The Times has a list of lawmakers known to have these endowments.

Also in money and politics this week:

Major Democratic fund-raiser Paul Magliochetti, founder of the defunct lobbying firm PMA Group, has been arrested and charged with making illegal campaign contributions to lawmakers. Those lawmakers, mostly Democrats, include the late John Murtha, D-Pa., who was under investigation by House ethics investigators at the time of his death.

And Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., has taken to the airwaves to denounce the ethics charges against her. Waters is accused of arranging a meeting between Treasury officials and members of UnitedOne bank — a bank that her husband has a financial stake in — prior to the bank receiving $12 million in bailout funds. The meeting “was not to ask for money,” Waters said last night on KCRW.

next time, please show us a photo in regard to these ethical lapses that is NOT of a black legislator.
I bet you can do it.

Leslie Parsley

Aug. 6, 2010, 2:15 p.m.

I agree with laura nawa and would add Republicans. Wait, most of them haven’t attended college, so there’s no need to having an endowment named after them.

“Several lawmakers and universities declined requests by The New York Times and other newspapers to reveal a full list of donors or fund-raising events that the members of Congress participated in”

This is a weak excuse and typical of the laziness of today’s media.

Hello Laura, I chose the photo for this story and I chose Rep. Rangel because he was in the lead of this particular post, and in the NYT article that discusses the corporate ties to lawmakers, the allegations against him are described as being more clear cut than against the others. Not only that, Rep. Rangel is one of the most senior of serving congressmen.

How pathetic and small minded of laura and leslie to read such a telling article and see only black vs white and democrate vs republican. Perhaps both of you “simpletons” should “attend college” and open your eyes to the lack of accountabillity and ethical behavior of public officials regardless of race or political affiliation.

Once again our elected impose rules on themselves and then quickly figure out a way to circumvent the rules.

The elected both Democrats and Republicans are shameless, unethical and criminal.

With approval ratings less than 10% you would think that they would be less inclined to behave unethically.

I think it is in their blood. They seem to be so naive (or is it plain stupid)  to think that the American public is not on to them.

It is clear that we the people are struggling to figure how to clean-up the cesspool. We will though.

All these financial means to “curry favor” with legislators are thinly disguised means of bribery. Whether it is supporting a legislator’s cause of giving him campaign funds or slipping it in his pocket, they are all equally unethical, but, unfortunately, this is legalized bribery.

It is despicable to think that lawmakers, who benefit from the best Health Care coverage in America—because it is provided by the Federal Government—would deny their constituents (who are fellow citizens) the same in a Public Option.

And one reason is the very heavy pressure that was put upon them by those whose vested interests are to maintain the highly defective and costly HC-idiocy in the US.

Amazing how people debate with one another on color and political party instead of what is actually more important. I hope you are proud and enjoy your freedoms in our Country. Time to grow up now if you can vote there is also a responsibility to think!

Let us not forget that these endowments are for higher education instituitions. It is most definitly wrong to circumvent the laws and in some cases blatenly disregard them…but what about the millions of dollars given to schools. Dollars which have been used to give needy students grants, or pay for research that aids humanity. I do not want to insinuate that what these politicians did was right, but I believe that giving money to aid schools is a most admirable thing to do. But then again, they didnt’ give. Great story, even though its the Times’.

{Let us not forget that these endowments are for higher education instituitions.}

I must refer to the only other Educational System that I know, which is France—and which is similar to the rest of Europe.

In fact, French universities are eagerly seeking corporate financing of research. The present government is taking a number of ideas out of the American higher-education notebook. Because French research is clannish and ossified and does not pay the best wages for researchers ... who waltz off to the US to get the sort of research subjects and equipment within which to work.

But that is not the important point, I think. There are two mainstays of the French Public Service system. Health Care and Education, both of which are highly subsidized by the state. Americans laugh when I tell them French inscription rates at University (since there is no tuition) and French parents cry when I tell them how much a university education in the US costs (because they would have liked their children to pursue advanced degrees there.)

The important point is to enhance the level of skills of the American workforce. In order to do that, America must take education seriously. Meaning, education is a discipline and not facultative. If a child is gifted, then getting them into tertiary education should be the goal. If the child is “education challenged” then the goal should be, at the very least, vocational schooling.

And it should never, ever be a question of money. HC and Education, the linchpins of a vibrant and well-functioning society/economy, should be the least-cost possible.

And if the money necessary must come by reducing the “Toys for our Boys” budget, then so be it. The DoD budget represents nearly 20% of our National Budget.

Must Uncle Sam be policeman to the world? Only if you want an M-I-C money-spinner.

This article has continued to press on my mind. Special interest donating money to an endowment in the name of an elected is nothing more than bribery. It is criminal for these elected to allow this to happen.

To all of you, write and call your representatives and if they don’t take action, vote them out of office.

Donald Sisto writes: “How pathetic and small minded of laura and leslie to read such a telling article and see only black vs white and democrate vs republican.”

I agree.  This is the kind of finger-pointing, “gotcha” mentality that so occupies far too many middle-class Americans.

ProPublica and its staff are, in my opinion, the premier public interest journalists in the country.

To be candid, I smell a rat.  These two posts showed up first and are similar in nature.  I wonder if they’re affiliated with somone who has an interest to protect.

{This article has continued to press on my mind. Special interest donating
money to an endowment in the name of an elected is nothing more than
bribery. }

Let’s not get carried away with words. Bribery is to dishonestly persuade (someone) to act in one’s favour by a payment or other inducement. There is no direct payment to the congressman and therefore the influence applied is purely tangential.

There is non-the-less a passive pressure being made upon the politician. After all, if s/he votes for legislation that companies do not feel applies to their vested-interests, then they will not be making the “contributions”. Our present law (in the matter of campaign financing) distinguish between money contributed to promote electoral voting in general and that which furthers an individual politician’s electoral campaign.

Yes, contributing to these endowments should be outlawed. But only in the general context of legislation that forbids politicians from either enticing or soliciting funds that are not strictly stipulated by law.

And let’s stop with the nonsense of each Chamber “policing” itself. They are not above the law, so the FBI should be making criminal investigations of the matter—and if evidence is obtained, then the person in question finds him/herself answering to a Federal judge. Just like any other criminal investigation.

We don’t elect politicians to go to Washington to devise cute tricks of how to get around the law.

Frankly, I suspect that the noble idea of republican government (a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.) has reached its human limits. 

I am much impressed by the use of national referendums in Switzerland that has been a part of their republic for over 150 years. It allows Swiss citizens to both propose and depose laws made by their parliament. The process is not easy, but it is effective—it makes their representatives think twice before passing laws. The deposing of a law by national referendum is a stinging rebuke of the lawmakers.

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