You might be familiar with wacky Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, who also happens to be a Hall-of-Fame pitcher (well, Veterans Committee, so not really a Hall-of-Famer). He’s not particularly popular in his home state these days (28% approval rating as of April), and now THE HILL has detailed how Bunning has been using a loophole to pay himself for signing autographs — which is against Senate ethics rules.
According to the story, Bunning established the Jim Bunning Foundation, which raises money through Bunning’s appearances at memorabilia shows and other events where Bunning signs autographs. The thing is, Bunning’s foundation seems to have Jim Bunning as its main beneficiary — he has received more money in “salary” from it than it has ever donated to charity.
Bunning pays himself $20,000 each year as the sole employee of the foundation, which THE HILL says consists of an average of one hour a week of his time. And while Bunning does donate a decent amount of foundation funds every year to non-profit groups, he’s never donated more than he’s paid himself. In fact, it seems that he established the foundation primarily as a way for him to make money off of signing things, with any charitable contributions being a secondary concern:
But as Bunning was being paid as the foundation’s sole employee, the Jim Bunning Foundation has consistently donated less than the $20,000 the senator collects. The foundation has never given more than $19,575 in a year, according to IRS documents and documents Bunning has filed with the Senate.
Since politicians can be a sneaky bunch, you might think that this sort of thing is common. But you’d be wrong:
“It’s probably legal, but I think it’s really questionable,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “He created a charity to allow himself to do what he otherwise couldn’t do, which is taking money for signing baseballs.”
Bunning’s Senate office did not return an e-mail and a message seeking comment. Richard Robinson, a Cincinnati attorney who serves on the foundation’s board and is listed as the contact person on IRS forms, could not be reached.
“Members are not supposed to have second jobs,” said Bill Allison, a senior researcher at the Sunlight Foundation. “It’s just a little bit strange to have a foundation supposedly for charitable purposes that’s paying you a salary.”
“It’s fine for members of Congress to have charities. It’s fine for them to donate money. It’s a little bizarre for them to take a salary out of that,” Allison said.
None of this is going to help Bunning’s public image, although Kentucky did re-elect him in 2004 despite rumors that his mental health was declining since he was unable to participate in a debate without the use of a teleprompter. Fellow Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who happens to be the Republican leader in the Senate, has not exactly gone out of his way to endorse Bunning for another term. Polls show just about anyone else with a pulse, including Billy Gillispie, leading Bunning in a hypothetical race.