Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce committee, has garnered positive headlines in his district for promising hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable contributions from his “philanthropy” foundation to local community organizations. Yet, the Washington Times reports that Barton’s “philanthropy” foundation has not raised enough money to cover its pledges. Barton gave “less than a quarter of the foundation’s money to charitable causes” and made only one $90,000 contribution to a charitable cause from 2005–2007.
The rest of the money is going to pay for “staff” and “other overhead.” Amy Barton, Barton’s daughter-in-law, is the “unpaid” executive director of the foundation. She said the foundation fulfilled a $900,000 pledge to help build a local Boys and Girls Club and fund a Meals on Wheels program by directing the funds from “other donors who were made aware of the project by the foundation.” Many of these “other donors” were companies with a stake in Barton’s committee:
— Future Energy Holdings, formerly known as TXU Energy, donated $25,000 for a Meals-on-Wheels project.
— Exelon Corp. donated $25,000 to the foundation with Barton as the “payee.” At the time, Exelon was seeking federal loan guarantees to back financing for a proposed nuclear power station that the firm wants to build in Victoria County, Texas.
— TXI Energy and XTO Energy sponsored a fundraising dinner for one of the charities to which Barton pledged money. Barton was honored at the event.
— BNSF, which delivers coal to 60 power plants nationwide, donated $10,000 to Meals on Wheels, but credited the donation in Barton’s name.
By directing donations and claiming credit, Barton essentially bypassed “a 2007 congressional requirement that donations from lobbying interests to lawmakers’ charities be disclosed.” Barton was honored as a “special guest” at a Meals on Wheels reception in Texas to thank him for the donations supplied by these corporate sponsors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the oil and natural resources industry has donated $2,897,050 to Barton’s reelection efforts.
Barton has been referred to as “Smokey Joe” for his willingness to stick up for big polluters. In response to the financial crisis, Barton sponsored legislation that would “open up” the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and Outer Continental Shelf to new oil drilling. Last month, Barton denied the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, saying that dramatic changes in climate are “natural” and that Americans should respond to such changes by merely seeking some “shade.”
Last week, House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) selected Barton to help lead the party’s energy task force in advocating “alternatives” to green energy legislation. With leaders like Barton, can we expect new policies? Or, further calls to simply “Drill Here, Drill Now?”