Thursday, December 06, 2007

Senate Whistle-Blower

By today's standards, Chuck Grassley is right out of a Frank Capra movie.

This summer the Republican Senator from Iowa got the Department of Agriculture to admit it had been sending subsidy checks to dead farmers, $1.1 billion over seven years.

This fall he voted to override President Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill and worked hard to persuade House Republicans to do the same and expand health insurance coverage for poor children.

Now he is pressing televangelists to explain how and why they drive Bentleys, fly in private jets and buy $23,000 commodes. Tomorrow is the deadline for six ministries to answer Grassley's questions about compensation, housing allowances, personal use of assets and unreported income.

"If tax-exempt organizations, including media-based ministries, thumb their noses at the laws governing their preferential tax treatment, the American public, their contributors, and the Internal Revenue Service have a right to know," says Grassley, the top minority member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Even Robin Hood has not escaped the Iowan's beady eye. A prestigious New York foundation of that name had to reexamine practices that led to employees of hedge funds run by board members collecting 2% of the assets and 20% of the profits, adding up to $14 million a year in management fees.

"I don't remember Robin Hood keeping 2 and 20 as his cut," Grassley said. "I'm worried that more and more, it seems some hedge fund and private equity managers see charitable donations as a chance to do well for themselves."

In the past five years, the Christian Science Monitor reports, "Grassley has led probes of nonprofits that unearthed lavish perks at the Smithsonian Institution, conflicts of interest at the Nature Conservancy, and mismanagement at the American Red Cross."

He has also sponsored legislation to protect whistle-blowers. Frank Capra would have loved him.

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