Charity That's Anything But

A company, union, or wealthy individual can often gain access to elected power brokers by giving money to their favorite charities. In gratitude, the elected official might listen to the donor's concerns, or even do a favor, such as vote for a certain bill.

This kind of mutual back-scratching is currently legal, and being used by a number of elected Republicans and Democrats. And what's more, the donor's identity can be kept secret under tax rules governing nonprofits.

But the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy wants to change this dubious practice. It has asked the IRS to remove the tax-exempt status of a charity set up by House majority leader Tom DeLay who's using the nonprofit to channel access to himself and other GOP leaders.

Mr. Delay's charity, Celebrations for Children, was started last September to help troubled youth, a cause he and his wife say they have long supported. But the charity is asking for donations between $10,000 and $500,000 for fundraisers at the 2004 GOP convention in New York. Donors will receive box seats to the Republican National Convention, tickets to Broadway shows, slots in a golf tournament, and time with DeLay and other lawmakers on a yacht or at a dinner, depending on the donation.

That's a lot of political schmoozing for what should be selfless giving.

At the least, tax law should be changed to require government officials to disclose donors to their charities. Congress should also look at whether such charities indirectly win votes by helping people in the politician's district. The goal is to stop private money from influencing the public's business.

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