EXCLUSIVE: Barton’s foundation not so charitable

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At the time, Mr. Barton was chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over, among other things, energy compacts; energy conservation; the generation and marketing of power; interstate transmission and rates; and the regulation of the domestic nuclear energy industry. When Democrats took over Congress in 2007, he became ranking minority member.

After Mr. Barton’s foundation pledged to raise $500,000 to help build a $3 million regional kitchen and offices for the Meals-on-Wheels program in Johnson and Ellis counties, companies with interests before Mr. Barton’s committee stepped forward.

Future Energy Holdings, formerly known as TXU Energy, which supplies electricity to more than 2 million Texas customers, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), which delivers coal to 60 power plants in 28 states, including Texas, came up with $35,000 for the project in the foundation’s name, said Meals-on-Wheels Executive Director Vinsen Faris.

Mr. Faris said that while none of the donated money came directly from the Barton foundation, it still counted toward the lawmaker’s pledge. Mr. Barton’s hometown newspaper, the Ennis Daily News, reported last week that the veteran lawmaker was “the special guest at a VIP Reception” because he had made the first donation to the Meals-on-Wheels program.

The Barton foundation also promised at a town meeting to raise up to $400,000 to help build a $1.2 million Boys and Girls Club in Corsicana, Texas, and those attending the meeting “burst into applause” when the announcement was made. Texas Monthly magazine reported in 2005.

But the foundation’s tax records show that while the organization raised $182,839 in 2005 and $214,628 in 2006, it gave just $90,000 in grant money - a single award in April 2006 to help construct the new Boys and Girls Club. During that same two-year period, the records show, the foundation paid out $126,000 in management, fundraising, compensation and other “general” and “functional” fees.

The tax records show that the foundation collected no money in 2007 and spent $3,400 in accounting, postal and telephone fees for a year-end balance of $211,166. No other charitable gifts or grants are listed in the foundation’s tax records over the three-year period.

Amy Barton, the foundation’s executive director, said the charitable organization “partnered” with the Boys and Girls Club in 2005 to plan a new facility to house after-school programs. She said the foundation pledged to raise $375,000 for the project, which was “fulfilled with funds from the foundation and with funds given directly to the Boys and Girls Club by other donors who were made aware of the project by the foundation.”

“We met our pledge,” she said, noting that the Boys and Girls Club opened its facility on May 17, 2008.

She said that after an extensive grant selection process in 2008, the foundation promised to raise $500,000 for the Meals-on-Wheels program, although that “pledge remains unfulfilled as of this date.” Similar to the Boys and Girls Club pledge, she said, the commitment “will be fulfilled with funds from the foundation and with funds given by other donors who were made aware of the project by the foundation.”

Asked for the names of the other donors, Mrs. Barton declined, saying those who contributed “asked us to keep their information private, and we choose to honor that commitment.” Eula Linicomn, the Boys and Girls Club’s executive director, also declined to identify the donors.

But Exelon Corp., which donated $25,000 to the Barton foundation last year, said the foundation solicited the donation and asked that it be applied to the Boys and Girls Club pledge.

Exelon spokesman Jeffrey Smith said the company regularly supports organizations in the communities in which it has customers, employees or facilities “to help improve the qualify of life in those areas.” He said Exelon’s 2008 donation of $25,000 to the Barton foundation “was made in response to a letter of request submitted by the foundation, to be applied to the completion of a Boys and Girls Club facility in Corsicana.”

The Exelon donation, however, was made public by the company under new congressional rules, listed in a now-required House lobbying report. The report, first disclosed by CREW, listed the Barton foundation as the “payee” and Mr. Barton as the “honoree.”

The contribution was made at a time when Mr. Barton, who has vigorously called for “the rebirth of the nuclear power industry in this country,” was proposing legislation that would help expand the market for nuclear energy. Exelon also had been negotiating for government approval to build a multimillion-dollar nuclear power plant in Mr. Barton’s home state.

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