Corporations spread influence through congressional charities

Lawmakers are mixing charitable and political agendas creating yet another loophole that ultimately allows more corporate influence in Congress.

The New York Times found that “at least two dozen charities that lawmakers or their families helped create or run routinely accept donations from businesses seeking to influence them.” Among these corporations are AT&T, Chevron, General Dynamics, Morgan Stanley and Eli Lilly.

A provision to rules imposed in 2007, allows these businesses to make unlimited gifts to the lawmaker’s charities. It’s a win-win for business executives who say they want to give to a good cause but also seek to influence politicians’ positions on legislation or policy.

For example, the cigarette maker, Altria, quickly donated at least $45,000 over a six-week period to four House member’s charitable programs. The good deed conveniently coincided with the company’s attempts to seek “approval of legislation intended to curb illegal Internet sales of its cigarettes.”

“It’s plain and simple influence peddling,” said Public Citizen government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman. “These are the same businesses that have maxed out in giving campaign contributions. They find other ways to keep throwing money at these member of Congress.”

These charities may be helping those in need, but not without members of Congress getting the benefits of corporate giving that isn’t regulated by campaign finance laws.