Fore! Was Iffy Foundation A Vehicle To Support GOP Rep’s Golf Habit?

Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) has long been a passionate golfer. Last year, Golf Digest ranked the lawmaker 32nd, with a handicap of 5.6, on its list of the top 200 golfers in Washington.

Like many members of Congress, Buyer has a history of mixing business and pleasure on the golf course. Now, it looks like the financial dealings of a questionable foundation created by Buyer were even more golf-driven than previously known.It’s been reported that the Frontier Foundation, which has been criticized for raising hundreds of thousands from industry groups seeking to influence Buyer while giving out nothing for its stated purpose of helping Indiana students pay for college, raised virtually all of its money on posh golf junkets. Those included trips with Buyer and groups of lobbyists to deluxe courses at Disney World and the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

Buyer also found himself in trouble in the mid-1990s after he didn’t report a golfing trip to Lake Tahoe paid for by a telecom lobbying group.

He has claimed the Frontier golf trips are “not fun for me” because travel is a lot of work.

But now, it appears that a chunk of the very small amount of money Frontier did give out — raised, remember, on posh golf junkets — was for a golf charity event of a different foundation.

Frontier gave $1,500 per year from 2003 to 2005 to a cancer charity called the Virginia Sheldon Jerome Foundation, founded by Eli Lilly’s top D.C. lobbyist for his late wife.

It appears from the foundation’s tax filings that it raises money through a golf tournament, held in 2004 at the Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, VA. The club features a “challenging Tom Jackson-designed, 18-hole championship golf course that’s filled with history and excitement.”

At the 2004 tournament, the $1,500 given by Frontier would have made Buyer either a “Closest-to-the-Pin Sponsor” or a “Longest Drive Sponsor.”

The $4,500 dollars donated by Frontier to the Jerome Foundation is being returned because Eli Lilly itself gave money to Frontier, Joe Kelley told the Indianapolis Star last week.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving to a cancer charity. But it’s telling that $4,500 of the $10,500 given out by Frontier over six years may have been paying for the golf-enthusiast lawmaker to get his fix. (Remember, though, Buyer doesn’t even enjoy playing.) And all this while the foundation wasn’t giving out a cent in scholarships.

There’s no way to know for sure if Buyer attended the golf tournament, because officials at his office, his foundation, and at the Virginia Sheldon Jerome Foundation did not immediately respond to our requests for comment.

It’s also worth noting this isn’t the first time Buyer has found himself in the rough for a golf-related ethical issue. Indiana’s Fort Wayne Journal Gazette noted in 2007 (via Nexis):

Awhile back another Hoosier was caught by the national media in an ethical no-no involving golf. In 1996 ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” questioned Rep. Steve Buyer about special interest groups paying for lawmakers to travel to resorts.

A telecommunications lobbying group paid for Buyer to go to Lake Tahoe to make a speech and play golf. But Buyer didn’t report it as the House required. An oversight, an aide said at the time.

Late Update: Here’s information on Buyer’s “Annual Golf Outing” to raise money for his campaign. This year, it was held at the Tippecanoe Country Club in Monticello, IN, and the price was $2,500 per PAC. (h/t TPM Reader EL)