USA Today published a thorough investigation of the donations lobbyists pour into the favorite non-profits of Congressmen to gain influence and buy face time at charity events. Only since 2007, when congressional ethics rules were changed, has such beneficence had to be reported. The article shows that the reform didn’t come soon enough, since the practice clearly generates some disturbing conflicts of interest.

Take, for example, the case of Sen. Jay Rockefeller:

What is more common — and legal — are donations such as the $40,000 AT&T gave in December to the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, which researches Alzheimer’s. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., founded the non-profit, which is named for his late mother, and he is the honorary chairman of its board. . . .

Last year, the telecommunication industry gave more than $72,000 to non-profits and charities in honor of Rockefeller, who advocated legislation to provide legal immunity to phone companies that participated in the government’s anti-terrorism eavesdropping program. The largest donation came from AT&T. At the time, Rockefeller chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and helped broker a deal on the bill, which passed last year.

Rockefeller oversees the telecom industry as chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Go ahead and read the rest. Some legislators even go so far as to shake down solicit companies for donations to their pet non-profits, which are often named after the legislator in question. And when a powerful senator asks for charity, how can one refuse? Again consider Jay Rockefeller:

Interviews show the West Virginia Democrat made a direct appeal to another company for a donation to the institute. Consol Energy gave $25,000 to the institute in October after Rockefeller sent a fundraising letter to CEO J. Brett Harvey, says Thomas Hoffman, Consol’s senior vice president. The company operates coal mines in West Virginia.

“It would be foolish to think we don’t take note of the fact when a member of Congress says, ‘Hey, I think this is something you ought to support,’ ” Hoffman says.


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