Charities controlled by U.S. Reps. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, and George Miller, D-Martinez, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate entities with a vested interest in their policymaking and have used that money, in part, to pay salaries for friends and family members, according to a New York Times report published this past weekend.
Baca and Miller were the only two California congressmen listed among 25 lawmakers with such charities in the report.
The story goes on to show that Baca in particular has used his influence in ways that have benefited his charity's donors. Among other things, he sponsored gambling legislation that would have helped several local tribes; sent a letter endorsing the merger of Comcast and NBC; and sent a letter urging the Department of Energy to approve a loan application by local energy company Rentech Inc., which sponsored a golf tournament held by Baca's foundation.
The Times goes on to explain further ties between donors and Baca's charity:
Perhaps nowhere is the mixing of charitable and political agendas more evident than with Mr. Baca and his family-run charity. It is not particularly large, taking in only about $200,000 in contributions this year, according to Joe Baca Jr., the lawmaker’s son. But the list of corporate donors and supporters serves almost like a road map to Mr. Baca’s major legislative actions.
Coca-Cola, which donated $40,000 in the last two years, is preparing to fight a proposal to prohibit the use of food stamps to buy high-calorie sodas, an issue that could be before the agriculture subcommittee that Mr. Baca leads.
The Lewis Group of Companies, a local development firm and a frequent sponsor of Baca Foundation events, is preparing to start construction on a 2,000-unit housing project built on land that Mr. Baca helped deliver by steering legislation through Congress to close the Rialto Municipal Airport, the current occupant. Mr. Baca last year helped secure a $500,000 budget earmark for Telacu, another local housing group that donates to his foundation.
Another donor to his foundation is Rentech, a California-based biofuels company that wants to build a new fuel plant in Mr. Baca’s district. After it made two donations last year, Mr. Baca’s son, who serves on the Rialto City Council, voted to endorse federal assistance for the project — even before the company had completed the local environmental permit reviews. Then the congressman sent a letter to the Energy Department on his office stationery urging approval of the assistance.
Mr. Baca’s office in Washington declined to address questions about the charity, or about positions the congressman has taken that appear to benefit donors. “They do a lot of great work,” said Stephen Wall, a spokesman for Mr. Baca, referring to the foundation. “But as far as what we do, it is separate.”
Charitable donations to politicians' favored causes are attractive options for donors. Unlike political contributions, donations to charities can be made in unlimited amounts. Depending on how the charity is set up, most also do not have to be disclosed, allowing donors to keep their involvement secret.
In addition to sponsoring scholarships and community events, charities run by both Baca and Miller have also been used to pay friends and family members, according to the story.
Baca's son, who the story says does administrative work for the charity, receives a salary of $24,000. The spouse of one of Miller's aides also at one point received $7,000 from Miller's charity.