A Private Foundation Tied to Red Lobster’s Parent Company Paid for House Resource Committee Chairman Richard Pombo’s Trips Abroad. Did They Violate the Tax Code?
The Center for Public Integrity and American Public Media’s Marketplace will report on Tuesday that the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources paid for two foreign trips costing more than $23,000
(Washington, D.C.) Oct. 18, 2005 — The Center for Public Integrity has discovered that a powerful member of Congress may have violated tax law by accepting international trips paid for by a non-profit private foundation called the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources.
The IFCNR is bankrolled in large part by the parent company of Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurant chains, Orlando-based Darden Restaurants. From 2000 to 2004, Darden has given IFCNR a total of $574,000, more than a third of its total support. The IFCNR has no staff and its headquarters are located at a home address, yet tax returns claim money for "Leasehold Improvements," "Fence," and "Flooring."
The IRS precludes private, non-profit foundations like the IFCNR from funding international travel by government officials and has potentially stiff penalties if trip costs are not reimbursed. The report, a joint effort of the Center for Public Integrity (www.publicintegrity.org) and Marketplace’s "Power Trips" series with American RadioWorks (http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/congtravel/), examines the highly unusual organizational structure and business activities of IFCNR.
The IFCNR, whose Web site features numerous articles that attack animal rights groups, paid for a November 2000 trip to New Zealand and a May 2002 trip to Japan for U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). Since then, Pombo pushed legislation that critics claim will gut the Endangered Species Act. His staffers have also drafted a working document that suggests some national parks be sold off for development to close the budget gap.
The Center for Public Integrity report includes:
— A chart listing IFCNR’s donors and how much they donated
— Links to PDF documents showing IRS rules on paying taxes for foreign trips and copies of the IFCNR’s tax filings
— Links to the text of Pombo’s bill to amend the Endangered Species Act recently passed by the House
— An audio file of Steve Henn’s interview with IFCNR President Emeritus Stephen Boynton.
To find local times and stations to hear this report on Marketplace, go to http://marketplace.publicradio.org/about/stations/marketplace_pm.html.
To listen to the streaming audio, visit the Marketplace home page, http://marketplace.publicradio.org/.
Members of the public can examine the records of their own — or all — members of Congress using the searchable, Web-based database at the “Power Trips” page (link supplied above). "Power Trips" is the result of a partnership with American Public Media’s Marketplace, its national documentary unit, American RadioWorks and Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.
The series put the spotlight on some of Congress’ most frequent flyers and the groups that most often funded them, revealing that members of Congress have taken more than 4,800 trips funded by private groups at a price tag of $14.4 million.
The Center for Public Integrity conducts investigative research and reporting on public policy issues in the United States and around the world. Through objective and thorough analyses, the Center hopes to serve as an honest broker of information and to inspire a better-informed citizenry that can demand a higher level of accountability from government, elected leaders, and industry. Since 1990, the Center, an independent, nonprofit organization, has released more than 275 investigative reports and 14 books. In just the past eight years the Center has been honored more than 30 times by, among others, PEN USA, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), the Society of Professional Journalists and the George Polk Awards.
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Source: Data are copyright Arbitron, Inc. Arbitron data are estimates only.