Charity’s Function Attacked

Posted January 28, 2004 at 6:26pm

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer is urging the House ethics committee to investigate plans by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to use his charity to finance a week’s worth of parties and other events at this summer’s Republican National Convention.

“We believe the DeLay scheme violates House ethics rules, in addition to violating the nation’s tax laws governing charitable organizations,” Wertheimer wrote in a letter delivered Wednesday to Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chairman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, and others who sit on the panel.

The letter also urges the panel to appoint an independent counsel to assist with an investigation because the matter involves a member of the House leadership.

As first reported by Roll Call last year, DeLay’s charity, Celebrations for Children, Inc., hopes to raise more than $1 million at the GOP convention in New York City this summer. And the charity is offering major perks for large donations.

In exchange for a $500,000 contribution, for instance, donors will dine privately with DeLay before and after the convention, go golfing on Long Island, attend Broadway shows, enjoy a yacht cruise, attend a late-night concert featuring a top act and have access to a luxury hospitality suite on the night President Bush is expected to receive his party’s nomination for a second term. DeLay’s GOP House colleagues will be present at many of the events.

However, Wertheimer contends that DeLay’s use of the charity to finance such political operations at the convention violates the nation’s tax laws as well as the House ethics standard that lawmakers may not be engaged in activities that fail to “reflect creditably” on the House as a whole.

“The DeLay scheme promises to allow Members of Congress to attend, free of charge, such events as Broadway shows, golfing tournaments, yacht cruises, dinners, parties and other events, courtesy of a ‘charitable’ organization that is being used for political purposes and funded by big donors to the ‘charity,’ many of whom are likely to have important interests pending in Congress,” Wertheimer wrote.

DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy dismissed Wertheimer’s request as partisan game-playing and asked if Wertheimer was also planning to file complaints against several organizations that financed events and parties at past conventions.

“The most relevant thing they refuse to address is the long standing tradition of 501(c) organizations that lawfully raise money at political conventions,” Roy said. “This is an opportunity for DeLay to help abused children through his charitable organization just as it was an opportunity for President Clinton to raise money for his charitable organization — his library — at the Democrat convention.”

He noted that during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, megastar Barbra Streisand hosted a star-studded event at her Malibu home that helped raise $10 million for the building of President Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Arkansas.

Roy also cited the fact that at the same convention, actor Billy Baldwin’s group, the Creative Coalition, threw a party for the Christopher Reeve Foundation. The Creative Coalition hosted a separate event at the Republican National Convention in 2000 to benefit the Michael Fox Foundation.

Wertheimer, however, said that DeLay’s plans for the upcoming convention is different and doesn’t pass the smell test.

“Majority Leader DeLay and his associates are trying to create an illusion that what he is to do at the 2004 convention is no different than what others have done to raise money for [501(c)(3)] and [501(c)(4)] organizations,” Wertheimer said. “It’s completely different. The real comparison here is what Majority Leader DeLay did at the 2000 convention when he funded all of these kinds of activities with soft money and the reality here is that since the Majority Leader is banned from now funding his political operation at the 2004 convention with soft money, he is attempting to use a charity as a cover for funding political operations with unlimited donations.”

Wertheimer’s letter to the House ethics committee does not qualify as an official complaint, because the panel does not accept complaints from outside groups. Only sitting lawmakers may compel the committee to act with a formal complaint. The ethics committee may also act on its own initiative to establish an investigative subcommittee in order to exercise its authority. An investigation appears unlikely, though, because House Republicans and Democrats have operating under an informal ethics “truce.”