Lobbyists unlimited in honoring lawmakers

During debate by a Commerce subcommittee, Buyer co-sponsored an amendment that stripped the advertising ban from a larger bill overhauling the Food and Drug Administration.

In an interview, Buyer said "there is no connection" between his legislative actions and donations to the foundation. "I'm not an officer. I'm not a board director," he said of his role in the non-profit. "Do I help the foundation? Yes, I do. Do I help other charity groups? Yes, I do."

He referred other questions to foundation officials.

The charity's IRS filing covering the year 2007, the most recent available, listed Buyer's daughter, Colleen, as its unpaid president. Stephanie Mattix, listed as the group's paid secretary/treasurer, is executive director of Buyer's political action committee, Storm Chasers, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Mattix and Buyer told USA TODAY that Colleen Buyer had left the group and referred questions to its president, Brenda Olthoff. Olthoff did not respond to e-mails and calls. Colleen Buyer did not return telephone calls.

The National Association of Broadcasters contributed $25,000 in honor of Buyer to the foundation last year. Amgen donated $15,000.

"I don't think there is a link between a specific vote on drug legislation and contributing to kids going to college in Indiana," says Dennis Wharton, the broadcasters' executive vice president. "We look at where we think it's a worthy cause."

Davenport, Amgen's spokeswoman, says the gift matched the company's "philanthropic mission to improve education."

'Putting and politics'

The donations are a path for lobbyists and company executives to mingle in more intimate surroundings with lawmakers during weekend golf outings and invitation-only dinners.

Last year, lobbyists and the companies that employ them gave more than $802,000 to non-profit groups in honor of Rep. Clyburn, the USA TODAY analysis shows. Those non-profits included the James E. Clyburn Research and Scholarship Foundation and the First Tee of Washington, D.C., which introduces minority and low-income children to golf.

It was First Tee that benefited from a "Putting and Politics" reception for Clyburn and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., on the rooftop of Citigroup's Washington offices in September. The company has received $45 billion in federal bailout money.

Nick Calio, Citigroup's top lobbyist, attended the reception but declined to comment. Gretchen Hamm, the non-profit's executive director, says Citigroup has donated $75,000 over the past three years.

Clyburn, an avid golfer, is a longtime supporter of First Tee. Two years ago, he inserted $3 million into a spending bill to expand the national program at Defense Department facilities. "Why shouldn't children of military families have access to this program as well?" Clyburn spokeswoman Kristie Greco asks.

Each year, Clyburn presides over a golf tournament that raises money for the scholarship program that bears his name. The former schoolteacher created the charity more than 20 years ago to "help deserving students afford a college education" Greco says. It is managed by an independent board and "Congressman Clyburn does not solicit donations," she adds.

But top executives and lobbyists from companies that contribute to the charity can join Clyburn for two days of golfing in South Carolina. Participants have included executives from Duke Energy and Dell, which donated more than $115,000 worth of computer equipment to students in Clyburn's program last year.

"It's not unusual that our folks in government affairs would play golf with members of Congress and support these causes," says Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy, which gave $5,000 to Clyburn's foundation last year. "It's part of the political process, and it's well within the law."

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