NY Times' Brooks lauded Santorum's anti-poverty work, ignored his charity-related controversies


In a recent column, David Brooks wrote that if Sen. Rick Santorum loses his Pennsylvania Senate seat, it's "probably good news in Pennsylvania's bobo suburbs" but "certainly bad for poor people around the world." Brooks, however, did not mention the controversy surrounding Santorum's own charity, or his attacks on prominent international humanitarian groups.

In his October 29 column (subscription required), New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: "Every poll suggests that Rick Santorum [R-PA] will lose his race to return to the U.S. Senate. That's probably good news in Pennsylvania's bobo suburbs, where folks regard Santorum as an ideological misfit and a social blight. But it's certainly bad for poor people around the world." Brooks explained that "almost every time a serious piece of antipoverty legislation surfaces in Congress, Rick Santorum is there playing a leadership role," and that "after Election Day, the underprivileged will probably have lost one of their least cuddly but most effective champions." Brooks made no mention, however, of the controversy surrounding Santorum's own charity, which reportedly uses 60 percent of its donations for its own overhead, employs "some of the same people who have worked for his campaign," and received $25,000 in donations from a development company on whose behalf Santorum was working to obtain federal aid. Nor did Brooks mention Santorum's attacks on prominent international humanitarian groups as having a "solid record of anti-abstinence, pro-prostitution, and anti-American activities."

On February 24, the Associated Press reported that Santorum's charity, Operation Good Neighbor Foundation, which seeks to provide "financial assistance to organizations engaged in faith-based, social welfare work," spent far less on charitable donations between 2001 and 2004 (as a percentage of total expenditures) than is typically expected of charitable organizations, and that the money it did not spend on donations went to overhead costs, including payments to Santorum campaign staffers who were also on the charity's payroll. According to the AP:

Sen. Rick Santorum's charity donated about 40 percent of the $1.25 million it spent during a four-year period, well below Better Business Bureau standards paying out the rest for overhead, including several hundred thousand dollars to campaign aides on the charity payroll.

The charity, Operation Good Neighbor, is described on its Web site as an organization promoting "compassionate conservatism" by providing grants to small nonprofit groups, many of them religious.

The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance says charitable organizations should spend at least 65 percent of their total expenses on program activities.

Operation Good Neighbor is based at the same address as Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum's campaign office in suburban Philadelphia, and some of the same people who have worked on his campaign are working for his charity and collecting money from it, records show.

On March 2, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that the largest donor to Operation Good Neighbor, a real estate development company, gave $25,000 to the charity at the same time that Santorum "was working to win as much as $8.5 million in federal aid for the donor's project in Delaware County," Pennsylvania:

Federal tax records show that Preferred Real Estate Inc., the developer of the Wharf at Rivertown project in Chester, wrote the check to Santorum's Operation Good Neighbor Foundation in 2002.

On his campaign Web site, Santorum boasts of winning $8.5 million in federal aid for the riverfront redevelopment of an abandoned Peco Energy plant -- an effort that culminated in the earmarking of $6 million in highway money last year.

But good-government experts were troubled by the appearance of a developer giving money to the senator's charity at the same time it was lobbying for federal dollars. Unlike a campaign contribution, checks to a charity can be written by a corporation and are not subject to any limit.

The Baltimore Sun reported on August 28, 2005, that Santorum was part of a campaign by the religious right to deny federal funds to humanitarian groups that deal with prostitutes in their efforts to curb the spread of AIDS, and attacked several charities in a letter to the State Department:

An anti-prostitution crusade by the religious right has collided with public health groups' efforts to prevent HIV infection in the world's red-light districts.

The battle, taking place largely out of public view, has intensified as some conservatives have attempted to gain greater control of the process through which aid groups working overseas get federal money.


Conservative lawmakers have moved to beef up the policy. On July 20, the House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, that would require each group to give details of dealings with prostitutes. And a House subcommittee wants agencies to furnish a list of groups working with prostitutes. Meanwhile, two senators have written Bush, attacking several federally funded groups. In a May 31 letter, Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused the widely known charity, CARE, and several other groups of having a "solid record of anti-abstinence, pro-prostitution, and anti-American activities."

The letter was addressed to Bush and to Andrew S. Natsios, the head of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which handles about half of federal AIDS funding.

CARE denies the accusation. "We do not promote prostitution or sex trafficking in any way," said spokeswoman Beatrice Spadacini.

An observer familiar with public health policy said HIV prevention groups are alarmed. "This is a McCarthyite environment," said Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, a nonprofit watchdog organization. "These groups are under incredible attack. They're all afraid of losing their funding."

CARE describes itself as "a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty."

The New York Times
David Brooks
2006 Elections
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