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The Charities of Congress

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Charitable foundations set up by members of Congress really demonstrate the power of the old adage: charity begins at home. This is another instance of Congress not only failing to regulate itself, but also manufacturing new means to funnel influence under the guise of doing good.

Both Congress and the corporations believe this latest artifice offers a win-win for all parties; the community, the corporative giver, and the elected official. This arrangement can be touted with nominal risks and a proper public face, and is inured from legal challenges since no money directly changes hands. What gifts to Congressional foundations do is increase power and influence on both sides. Elected officials build a loyal base of followers by establishing a proven track record of building community opportunities. Corporations control the financial strings that build this base. Like all credits and swaps, the funding of the foundations take on a value. That value is a coin considered when Congress votes to regulate or protect the industries, markets, and products of its foundation's corporate givers. It's a sleight of a hand that is easy for all to see through.

Nice try, but who honestly thinks even Tea party candidates will be immune to the influence of money once elected, that they can resist pay-for-play if they win? Who really believes that Republicans, who cite polls to oppose current policies, are prepared to govern in a way that goes beyond their special interests? Especially after their members made pologies to BP, called the restoration fund a "shakedown," opposed the lifting of the ban on tax cuts for the rich under the guise of overburdened families and small businesses, and even opposed extending unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed? Who believes that liberal Democrats will fail to hold their nose and water down regulation of the drug, financial, and energy industries, when BP continues the outrage of having annual government contracts worth $10+ billion ($9 billion alone in Defense; for the complete list see http://bit.ly/bnhKOn) while demanding new leases for offshore drilling?

After the examples of William Jefferson (2009), Bob Ney (2006), Tom DeLay (2005), James Trafficant (2002), Newt Gingrich (1998), Dan Rostenkowski (1996), David Durenberger (1990), James Wright (1989), William Harrison (1982), and Michael Meyer (1990), and the current cases of Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel, Congress members on both sides of the aisle should have institutional memories against the corrupting influence of money.

Congressional foundations do achieve positive results. But their gifts keep on giving: corporations making the gifts wait on a return, and the public ultimately pays the cost. These foundations are periously close to vehicles for Congress to fund its vanity while peddling its influence.

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