Wertheimer Urges DeLay to Disclose Names of Contributors to Foundation

Posted January 28, 2003 at 6:49pm

Reform advocates are pushing the House to reverse a surprise rules change that allows charities to provide free trips and lodging expenses to lawmakers attending fundraising events that are often set in luxurious locations and funded by contributions from lobbyists and special interests.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, called on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to fully disclose the list of contributors who are expected to give the Texas Republican’s charity — the DeLay Foundation for Kids — more than $1 million at a three-day golf tournament scheduled for April at an exclusive resort in Key Largo, Fla.

DeLay has acknowledged that he engineered the rules change without consulting the House ethics committee so that more lawmakers would attend the DeLay Foundation golf event, which provides money to support abused children.

In a letter to DeLay on Tuesday, Wertheimer recalled DeLay’s 1995 opposition to the gift rule that ended the charitable junkets for lawmakers and reminded DeLay that he had strongly advocated full disclosure as a substitute for limits.

In a Nov. 16, 1995, House floor speech, DeLay said: “The time has come that the American people know exactly what their Representatives are doing here in Washington. Are they feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special interest groups? Or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The people, the American people, have a right to know. I say the best disinfectant is full disclosure, not isolation.”

DeLay added, “Why do we not let the people decide what is right and what is wrong? Why do we not just tell the people what gifts we get, through full disclosure, and stop the ridiculous charade of public virtue at the expense of common sense.”

Wertheimer wrote that Democracy 21 is requesting “that you now live up to and by your words” in 1995.

“We request that you make a public commitment to disclose to the public the names of and amounts received from the donors to your three-day Florida event in April, whose contributions, in part, will finance the travel, lodging and meals of the Members of Congress who attend,” he wrote.

The group also asked for an accounting of the expenses paid to each lawmaker who attends the event.

“In disclosing this information, you will be meeting the ethics disclosure standard you set forth in 1995 by informing the public as to who is paying the Members’ expenses in connection with their visit to the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla., and the total amount of financial benefits each Member is receiving from the lobbyists, corporations and others who are paying for the trip,” Wertheimer wrote.

DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy shot back with a challenge to Wertheimer.

“In his partisan vendetta to raise the profile of his fundraising organization, Fred Wertheimer is ripping down a charity that is solely devoted to helping poor, abused and needy children. If Fred Wertheimer wants to give a donation to the DeLay Foundation to help foster children who are the most in need, we will be glad to publicly disclose that,” Roy said.

Meanwhile, charitable groups are also expressing alarm that the House rules change will tarnish their own reputation and public goodwill.

“For lobbyists to be able to buy access to lawmakers under the guise of supporting charity is an affront to the philanthropic community — and it ought to be an embarrassment to the House Republican leadership,” said Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

“I can’t imagine what they are thinking — particularly since they had made such a show of banning these very practices only a few short years ago,” Cohen said, adding that the new rules will allow lobbyist to use charitable donations “to buy access to power that is not available to most Americans.”

The charitable watchdog group advocates public disclosure of all corporate contributions to charitable organizations.