UPDATE from when I filed today's column (click below).
Late last night, the GOP House leadership rebuffed attempts to but some meat on the ethics and lobby bill bone. I'll post more on this later.
Under ethics legislation up for a vote today, the cozy, $1million relationship between the charitable arm of phone giant SBC/AT&T and Rep. Bobby Rush, the only Democrat co-sponsoring the rewrite of a telecommunications bill, would have to be made public.
The GOP-controlled House is scheduled to take up today a watered-down ethics and lobbying bill that Democrats and government watchdog groups were making a push to improve on Wednesday. Unless a miracle occurred after my deadline, that is not going to happen and no tougher language will be added to the measure.
The watchdogs -- Common Cause, Democracy 21, Public Citizen, and the Democratic leadership -- are calling for a no vote on the scam lobbying reform legislation.
The House ethics bill and a similar tepid counterpart passed a few weeks ago in the Senate are a response to congressional scandals centering around convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The legislation, while vastly disappointing, has some redeeming features.
One is the notion that money connected to charities linked to members of Congress deserves to be part of the public record.
My news story in Tuesday's Sun-Times told of how the SBC Foundation gave $1 million to the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation. Rush is a longtime member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rush founded the nonprofit, tax-exempt Rebirth of Englewood center, located in his South Side congressional district, to improve the economy of the impoverished Englewood community. Rush sits on its board as does his wife, Carolyn, and the center employs his son, Flynn.
Payments for the $1 million grant were made by the SBC Foundation between 2001 and 2004 to underwrite the "Bobby L. Rush Center for Community Technology,'' envisioned as a training and business resource facility for the Englewood area. SBC acquired AT&T and switched to using the better-known name. The Rush Center still has not opened, though officials are hopeful it will within 12 months.
AT&T is lobbying hard for legislation Rush and energy and commerce panel chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) are co-sponsoring. The Barton-Rush bill, up before the committee on Wednesday, will chart the future of the phone and cable television companies and of the Internet.
The phone companies want the legislation because it will give them a national franchise to provide cable television service, letting them avoid having to negotiate with 30,000 local governments.
Sheila Krumholz, the acting executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, said it was a "clear conflict'' for Rush to weigh in, much less be "championing the position of a company that paid $1 million to name a building after him.''
Charitable giving is a backdoor way for corporate interests to curry favor with lawmakers. Corporations are banned from giving directly to federal campaigns, but there is no limit to donating to a lawmaker's pet charity. Corporate giving figures in the controversies associated with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who is relinquishing his seat, and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), recently forced to step down as the ranking Democrat on the ethics panel.
The House bill -- and its Senate counterpart -- addresses the loophole. The legislation would force the disclosure of a donation by a lobbyist or a representative of a company "to, or on behalf of, an entity that is named for'' a member of Congress or to "an entity established, financed, maintained or controlled'' by a member of Congress. The call of whether the member directly or indirectly controls the entity should be examined in the "context of the overall relationship,'' the legislation states.
In Rush's case the relationships are worth noting.
Last May, I wrote a column about the developing relationships between Rush, the Rebirth of Englewood, which has federal and state contracts, and entities tied to the Beloved Christian Community Church of which Rush is the founder and the pastor. Rush uses money from his federal campaign fund to keep the church afloat.
A year ago, I reported Rush channeled $72,500 from his political war chest to the church. The latest disclosures, running through March 31 of this year, reveal that Rush has sent another $18,000 from his campaign fund to Beloved Christian.
Last year, my Sun-Times colleague Steve Patterson wrote about two mortgage foreclosures filed against Rush -- for his Chicago home and Michigan vacation condo. Eventually the foreclosures were "resolved,'' somehow.
Rush is proud of his corporate support, even bragged about the SBC foundation money for Rebirth of Englewood.
Even the lame House ethics and lobbying bill recognizes that there are problems with relationships such as the one Rush has with SBC/AT&T.
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