|Bobby and Supriya Jindal|
U.S. politicians increasingly are launching non-profit organizations, apparently as a way to get around ethics and campaign-finance laws. The practice has become common around the country, with members of both parties. But it seems to be particularly popular among Republicans in the Deep South.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recently found himself in the spotlight of The New York Times because of a foundation run by his wife. In Alabama, non-profits have become popular with politicians who no longer are in office. Former Governor Bob Riley, just before leaving office, announced plans to start a non-profit focused on education. Bradley Byrne, who was Riley's hand-picked successor before losing to Robert Bentley in the GOP primary, recently announced the formation of a non-profit called Reform Alabama.
Where is all of this headed? It's probably too soon to say for sure. But sources tell Legal Schnauzer that law-enforcement officials have taken an interest in the proceedings.
Most private foundations, those launched for genuinely charitable reasons, rely on funds from their founders' pockets. But that's not how foundations work in the world of postmodern politics. Funds for those "charities" come from corporations and individuals who want to influence the politician. Here's how it works with the foundation set up by Bobby Jindal's wife:
AT & T, which needed Mr. Jindal, a Republican, to sign off on legislation allowing the company to sell cable television services without having to negotiate with individual parishes, has pledged at least $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.
Marathon Oil, which last year won approval from the Jindal administration to increase the amount of oil it can refine at its Louisiana plant, also committed to a $250,000 donation. And the military contractor Northrop Grumman, which got state officials to help set up an airplane maintenance facility at a former Air Force base, promised $10,000 to the charity.
The foundation has collected nearly $1 million in previously unreported pledges from major oil companies, insurers and other corporations in Louisiana with high-stakes regulatory issues, according to a review by The New York Times.
Like Bob Riley in Alabama, Jindal has touted his tough stance on ethics. But the cash flowing into his wife's foundation is raising eyebrows:
Mr. Jindal has made tightening Louisiana’s ethics rules a centerpiece of his administration and has promised to crack down on the influence of special interests. But Anne Rolfes, founding director of an environmental group called the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said the donations to Mrs. Jindal’s charity compromise the governor’s pledge.
“It may be a good cause, but it creates the appearance he is being bribed,” Ms. Rolfes said. “And if you are truly committed to ethical behavior, you just need to stay away from it all together.”
While Jindal is using his wife to bring in cash, Riley seems to be using his daughter in Alabama. Minda Riley Campbell, in an e-mail that was leaked last week, revealed that her father is planning to start a political action committee (PAC) in an apparent effort to divert funds from the Alabama Republican Party, which now is headed by Gov. Bentley and Bill Armistead, who generally are not seen as members of the Riley camp.
In an article from last September--"Congressional Charities Pulling In Corporate Cash"--The New York Times showed that Americans seemingly have not learned from political scandals of recent years:
It is difficult to determine how much corporate money flows into the lawmaker-affiliated charities. They are not required to disclose their donors or the amount of their gifts, and few of them do. After scandals involving Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican and former House majority leader, and the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Congress adopted rules requiring corporations with lobbyists to report donations to charities established by a lawmaker.
The Times review, however, found at least a dozen companies that appear to have violated the requirements. A spokeswoman said the Senate Office of Public Records was barred from routinely checking lobbyist filings to ensure that they were honoring the rules.
Could another scandal of national proportions be on the horizon? We would not be surprised.
[Photo: Fox News]