About Face: Buyer Admits Ties To Questionable Foundation, Posh Golf Junkets

Roll Call Photos/Newscom

Last we checked, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) was maintaining that he had nothing more than a casual connection to the Frontier Foundation, which has collected lots of money from industry groups seeking to curry favor with Buyer, spent a lot on travel, meals, and salary, but given out nothing for its stated purpose of helping students get through college.

Now, after several media outlets questioned the legitimacy of the setup, Buyer is pushing back and he has a totally new story: the foundation is his, after all, and his selfless efforts to help poor Indiana children are now the focus of “vicious and ugly” attacks.

Oh yeah, and even though everything is on the up-and-up, Buyer has decided to review the foundation’s activities and potentially change how it operates.

But wait, there’s more!Buyer now admits to the Indianapolis Star that a lot of those unitemized foundation expenses were for golf outings with corporate donors at, among other places, Disney World, the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and the Phoenix-area Boulders resort.

Not to worry, though — Buyer tells the paper he doesn’t even enjoy the trips, saying it’s “not fun for me” and the travel is “work.”

(The picture above is Buyer golfing at a Congressional event in Maryland 2006.)

Lobbyists and corporations give to foundations linked to lawmakers in order to get valuable access to members of Congress. And that’s exactly what happened in this case. Buyer sits on the House Energy Subcommittee on Health, and much of the nearly $900,000 raised by the Frontier Foundation came from health care and pharmaceutical interests.

Buyer’s pushback against negative press began with an interview in the Monticello Herald Journal a few days after an expose on the foundation was published in another Indiana newspaper. Yesterday, a Buyer op-ed on the foundation ran in at least two Indiana newspapers.

His press secretary had claimed, “It’s not Congressman’s Buyer’s foundation.” And Buyer himself said the Frontier Foundation was like any other charity he helped, even though it shared his campaign office space.

In the new interview, Buyer admitted he founded the charity, and that he basically controls it. He tried to play up the human-interest angle on the foundation, despite the lack of human recipients of scholarships: “I was one the original founders of the (Frontier) Foundation and it came from having attended the senior nights at Twin Lakes High School, watching these kids grow and mature,” he told the Herald Journal.

What about the foundation’s roughly $260,000 in expenses on salary for a Buyer employee, travel, and meals? That’s not much divided over six years of operation, Buyer says.

And why were no scholarships given even after the foundation reached its initial goal of $100,000? That amount wouldn’t yield large high enough interest payments, Buyer says. His office did not immediately respond to our request for comment about, among other things, the donations the foundation did make.

The Indianapolis Star also reported Sunday that “$4,500 went to a cancer fund run by the chief Washington lobbyist for Eli Lilly and Co.” who “is refunding the money because Lilly is among the groups that have supported Buyer’s foundation.”

Minus that $4,500, the Frontier Foundation has given out just $6,000, including $1,450 to the NRA Foundation.

Buyer tells the Star the activities of the foundation are under review and there may be no more golf junkets, meaning “students may not be able to benefit for a decade.”