One of the most important but unnoticed changes in the field of investigative research in recent years is the growing role of nonprofits connected to politics and corporations. U.S. corporations are increasingly using charitable donations as a new form of political influence at a time of increasing scrutiny of the more established methods such as political donations and lobbying.
The total amount of U.S. corporate charitable donations for political influence is “280 percent larger than annual PAC contributions and about 40 percent of total federal lobbying expenditures”, according to an extensive study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
However, this also presents a great opportunity for investigative research. The U.S. government provides a unique and diffuse array of public databases that are a great source of information for any diligent researcher. Moreover, corporate efforts to influence politics via donations to nonprofits are often well-documented for anyone that can connect the dots across these databases.
Another Version of Corporate Influence
This development has been well-documented in several news stories in the past 20 years but the best source of evidence and information comes from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The NBER published an extensive study, “Tax-Exempt Lobbying: Corporate Philanthropy as a Tool For Political Influence”, that provides in-depth evidence revealing that this is now a common practice.
With this in mind, I will explain how to research nonprofits linked to politicians (the same methods work for nonprofits owned by the extremely rich) and show how to make sense of the available public records.
Joe Barton Foundation
One of the best examples of political misuse of a nonprofit is the Joe Barton Foundation. The founder and namesake arguably created this nonprofit primarily to generate good PR for himself and payouts to friend and family.
Years later, an article in the Washington Times summed up that
“[Joe Barton] the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee operates a foundation that has raised donations from the industries his committee oversees...taking credit when companies give directly to community groups in the foundation’s name - essentially bypassing a 2007 congressional requirement that donations from lobbying interests to lawmakers’ charities be disclosed”
The NBER study’s authors referenced Congressman Joe Barton as someone that used his nonprofit for his own benefit, so I chose him and his foundation, the Joe Barton Family Foundation, as a case study that shows classic methods of embezzlement and corruption.
There are three well-established ways to look for signs of embezzlement. First, investigate whether an official used their position of power to hire a close friend or family member into a job even though they are unqualified for it. This is not proof in and of itself. But embezzlement often requires more than one person so the first person needs a second person that they can trust (like a friend or family member).
For example, Former Angola President Jose Eduardo dos Santos used his position to hire his own daughter (Isabel dos Santos) to run the state-owned oil company. Isabel used that position to embezzle so much money that she became the richest woman in Africa, according to the BBC.
In another example, it was discovered in 2016 that then-Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson used his position to make his personal investments grow substantially. But to avoid a conflict of interest, Sigmundur first sold his investments to his wife for $1 according to The Guardian. In this case, Sigmundur assumed that his wife would share the ill-gotten gains with him.
Second, check whether the organization paid for work that never existed. Isabel dos Santos tried to hide her embezzlement by signing contracts for the state-run oil company to pay a second company (which she secretly owned) for products and services that never existed. Therefore, on paper, it looks like the money was spent for legitimate purposes. A trademark of this activity is when financial documents say that the company paid for something vague or hard to prove.
Finally, a researcher can look for a company or organization that is receiving money but does not seem to be producing or doing anything.
At this point, it is worth discussing nonprofit funding. There is a popular misconception that it reflects poorly on a nonprofit if it spends a lot of its money on running the nonprofit itself (overhead costs), rather than spending the money on its service or charity. It is therefore easy for critics of any nonprofit to point out how much of the organization’s money is being spent on overhead costs.
In truth, the majority of research (see here, here, here, or here) asserts that the percentage of a nonprofit's funding spent on overhead is not a sign of how effective the organization is at its purpose. This is a red herring and researchers should avoid making conclusions based on the nonprofit’s overhead.
However, in our case study, we will look into how the nonprofit spent its money and if there is evidence of any work at all resulting from those costs.
This is an important difference from analyzing how efficiently the nonprofit spent money on work that did happen.
Following the footsteps of Jerry Seper and his investigation published in the Washington Times ("Exclusive: Barton Foundation Not So Charitable")
As noted above, politicians commonly use charities to their benefit to improve their public image and even gain financially at times. At first glance, it might be difficult to imagine how a charity could end up gaining political support for a candidate. This case study will demonstrate how one politician used his charity in this way.
This study follows the case of Congressman Joe L. Barton during the period he was Chair of the House Energy Committee (that fact will be relevant later) from 2004 to 2008 and his creation of a private foundation. These events occurred a while ago, but I am using resources and methods that are intended for modern-day investigations.
While he was a sitting member of Congress, Barton repeatedly made public statements about his foundation’s work and its donations to local charities. Usually when someone owns a foundation with their name on it, they are using their own money to finance it and its grants.
Barton founded a foundation in 2005 called the Joe Barton Family Foundation. The reported purpose of this foundation was to support charities in Barton’s district, Texas’ 6th congressional district.
A quick google search would show the kinds of PR that the foundation generated for Barton. Here are some examples.
Press reported that the Barton Family Foundation pledged to raise up to $400,000 to help build a Boys and Girls Club and to raise $500,000 to help build a regional kitchen and offices for the Meals-on-Wheels program. Both projects were in Barton’s district.
For the local Boys and Girls Club (BGC), Barton publicized his role in supporting the project at public events. According to a statement by AT&T, Barton accepted a $50,000 check on behalf of the BGC at a public event organized by the donor AT&T. Barton made public statements about the project and an AT&T spokesperson publicly thanked Barton for making the project possible.
Barton also attended the groundbreaking ceremony and gave a public speech. A local paper reported that Barton was
introduced at the event as the person “making this event possible” and then “Barton took the stage and said the dream had become a reality”.
Barton’s foundation blatantly gained attention in the local press and praise for him. Research by the Washington Times after the fact showed at the time the local Ennis Daily News reported Barton was “the special guest at a VIP Reception” because he had made the first donation to the Meals-on-Wheels program.
Texas Monthly magazine reported in 2005 that a local town hall meeting “burst into applause” for Barton when he announced his foundation’s pledge for the Boys and Girls Club.
The Washington Times reported in a 2009 article: “The Barton foundation was among several groups honoured for their philanthropy during Nov. 6 ceremonies in Fort Worth sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The foundation was flagged for its pledge of $500,000 for the Meals-on-Wheels program.”
Starting the Investigation
Along the way, we will be using the reKnowledge DIB extension to facilitate, document, and visualize our research so it will regularly come in handy.
After finishing with the requisite googling, the best place to start an investigation into a U.S. politician is often their financial disclosures. Congress has a website where the public can access these disclosures. This is where politicians are supposed to disclose other sources of income and relevant outside activities.
OpenCorporates.com, a website that allows you to search many government registries at once, is usually a good place to start. With nonprofits, your results in Open Corporates may vary depending on the state. A search for the foundation’s name finds registration information for it from a Texas registry.
The registration information in Open Corporates includes an incorporation date (April 5th 2005), an address (3100 sprocket drive, Arlington, Texas), a few names of “directors”, and a link to the source of the information (The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts) with a URL (https://mycpa.cpa.state.tx.us/coa/).
We do not know yet which, if any, of these entities and people could be important so we use the reKnowledge DIB extension to identify entities and take note of them for now.
Sometimes the original source of the information has a bit more detail, so I look up the foundation at the URL provided and find the registration itself.
One notable addition is the Registered Agent Name, one Gary Martin.
Finally, one easy step I learned from the book, A Deal With the Devil by Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, is to check if the place has a real physical presence.
You can do this by checking the address in Google Maps or Street View. A more legitimate operation will often have some form of office with their name at the address.
But when we search 3100 Sprocket Dr what we find is not an office for the Barton Foundation, but a company called Martin Sprocket & Gear. Using reKnowledge we create a node for this company and link it to this address. If we check with Street View there is no sight of any office with the words “Barton” or “Foundation”. We only see the business’ headquarters building.
If the name “Martin” sounds familiar, that is because we just saw that the Registered Agent Name for the Barton Foundation is someone named Gary Martin. A search in Open Corporates shows that this person, Gary Martin, also owns the company that is located at the same address where he appears to have registered the Barton Foundation.
A Registered Agent is an entity like a company or a nonprofit organization that can legally designate a registered agent to receive correspondence on its behalf, such as legal summons. If the agent is not affiliated with the company, it will usually be a lawyer that provides this service for a fee.
In practice, the agent can act as a barrier to the entity by hiding the entity’s owner, address, phone number, etc. On paper, the entity can often list the registered agent’s contact information instead of its own.
Bad actors can abuse the role of a registered agent to hide things about themselves.
Martin and Barton Relationship
Rather than being the foundation’s owner, employee, or lawyer, it appears more likely that Martin was just someone tied to Barton and had a separate, maybe pre-existing, relationship.
If we look at campaign contributions on the website for the Federal Election Commission we see Martin’s name come up again. Data from fec.gov showed that Martin made personal donations to Barton’s campaigns regularly since 1990. There is also a disproportionate amount of individual contributions to Barton from people that work Martin’s company, Martin Sprocket & Gear, and their spouses.
Once again we use reKnowledge to take note of newly discovered relationships focused on Martin. We use the reKnowledge extension to automatically identify known entities and individuals on our screen. Then we can quickly create the relevant relationships between Martin and Barton.
The list below provides a sum of contributions, grouped together based on each contributor’s employer” from individuals to Barton. The description from OpenSecrets about the data explains that, “the organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations' PACs, their members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families.”
This further suggests that Barton and Martin had a pre-existing relationship and maybe Barton just asked a friend/associate to register the foundation at his company’s address. That would be easier than creating a real headquarters. There is certainly nothing wrong with running a “shoestring” operation, but as we will soon discover, the foundation was NOT being run on the cheap.
At this point we know we have seen Martin’s name come up directly or indirectly associated with Barton. Barton’s nonprofit is registered with an address where Martin’s company is located. Martin and his company are significant donors to Barton’s campaigns. And of course, Martin is registered as an employee of Barton’s foundation. We use reKnowledge to look back on all of the connections we have seen and visualize them in the analytical workbench. Based on this evidence, we can now assume there is a direct relationship between the two individuals.
At this point, we have well established that the director and registered agent for Barton’s nonprofit is his close associate. In the context of the classic means of embezzlement, this is a data point worth holding on to.
We know what was going on publicly with the foundation, but we can look at the tax records to see what was happening behind the scenes. There have been many cases of politicians using their nonprofits to avoid taxes, improve their public image, and/or even enrich their friends and family.
Nonprofit organizations in the U.S. must file their taxes in Form 990 every year and the IRS makes those records available to the public. But they are very hard to read if you do not understand what you are looking at.
There is an IRS public database for looking up the tax records of nonprofits but if you look up the records for the Barton Foundation, you see the records only go back to 2016. However, ProPublica maintains a similar database of filings obtained from the IRS but in a more user-friendly format and with records going back much further.
We can search for the nonprofit by name at the Propublica site and we get a list of the foundation’s records going back to its establishment in 2005. Let’s look at the first tax filing.
At first glance, the tax filing is a daunting and confusing mess of numbers and tax phrases that make no sense. So I will identify the important parts and explain what to look for in them.
Questions to Ask
Here is how the tax record for 2005 appears.
Now that we’ve found the records, we want to consider a few questions to answer. Did the politician fund the nonprofit or are they spending other people’s money?
Did the nonprofit’s actions reflect public statements by the politician?
Who benefited financially from the nonprofit?
To elaborate on the last question, did anyone close to the politician benefit (because that would suggest a conflict of interest)?
Unfortunately, the public tax records for nonprofits come in a poor quality PDF that lacks optical character recognition (which would let us do a word search). ProPublica is converting more recent records, but that does not help us here. The quality of the files will not be a problem if you know where to look.
Whose Money is it?
The first question we will consider is whether Barton is funding his foundation. It is generally implied when someone creates a foundation in their name and announces that they will be donating money to a cause, that the person is donating their own money. In most cases this is true.
Let’s find out if the Congressman was using his own money and if not, how much money was coming into the organization. We will start with the foundation’s first filing from 2005, the records are located here at ProPublica.
The first place to look in the tax record is on page 1 where there is a summary of the nonprofit’s expenses in the section named “Part I: Revenues, Expenses, and Changes in Net Assets or Fund Balances”.
In this section, we see in item 1 that the Barton Foundation gained $235,000 that year.
Before proceeding, let’s look for a section called Schedule B to find out if this money is from the politician. We are looking for Schedule B because if any single contributor donated more than $5,000 then they are supposed to be identified in this section. If Barton is funding this operation, he would need to list himself in this section, especially for the sake of the major tax write-off.
However, we find that this record does not have a Schedule B included. Generally speaking, this implies that no one gave more than $5,000, but does not quite prove it. This is common because many nonprofits do not want to identify their contributors.
For our purpose, this is useful because it means the nonprofit’s money did not come from Barton himself, it is other people’s money. It is still possible to find the donors by looking elsewhere.
Corporations often create a foundation to donate money for tax purposes. So, for example, the Target Corporation created a nonprofit foundation called the Target Foundation. See the tax record below that shows that the one contributor to the Target Foundation is the Target Corporation. The company gives money to the foundation to give that money to charities. In this case, the nonprofit will list its contributor to prove that the corporation donated.
Unfortunately for our investigation, the donors and the recipient did not list their contributions in tax filings. However, it is good to know how to look up who is donating where. Nonprofits often do not list where they received money, but the foundations that donated will often list all of their recipients in their filing.
But first, it is important to understand the state of the data you are researching. Nonprofit tax records will show where the money went, but not where it came from. Furthermore, nonprofit tax filings are generally stored as poorly formatted scanned versions of the paper documents in pdf files, so a researcher usually cannot do a word search for any recipients of grants and donations. Researchers can usually only search for the names of the nonprofit that filed the record, not the names (or any other words for that matter) of anyone recorded in the filing itself.
The solution is to look for the foundation or other nonprofit organization that might have donated the money and see if your nonprofit is listed there.
For example, a little detective work revealed Joe Barton’s relationship with the Community Foundation of North Texas and a search of their donation recipients shows a $25,000 donation in the name of the Joe Barton Foundation.
Where Did They Spend The Money?
Let’s return to page 1, part 1. Here, item 17 shows that the Barton Foundation spent about $52,000 in 2005. For more information about those expenses, we can look at items 13-16. We see here that no money was spent on “Program services” (i.e. charitable activities). However, $35,000 was spent on the vaguely named “Management and general” (more on this in a bit)), and $16,000 on “Fundraising.”
We see the path of the money in 2005 below. A lot of money from unidentified donors goes into the foundation, some goes to an employee (director Thomas L. Driskell) and some go to overhead expenses and a lot is left over.
Spending money on fundraising is to be expected and it is also reasonable that the organization did not perform any services in its first year of existence. But the management expenses are more curious.
Senior Officers and Employees
If we scroll down to “Part V-A” we see the organization’s leadership. There are several names here that we could investigate but one, in particular, jumps out. The foundation paid Thomas L Driskell $32,000 for reportedly working 40 hours per week.
So at the end of 2005, during the organization’s admittedly short period of existence, it has not conducted any charitable services but it has paid Mr Driskell $32,000.
Based on the fact that he was paid with foundation money, Driskell is someone worth investigating.
So now we might ask, who is Thomas Driskell? Is he qualified for this job? What is his relationship with Barton?
According to the tax record, Driskell was working 40 hours per week at the foundation, even though he already had a job running an accounting firm, based on the firm’s registration below.
We are interested in Driskell’s qualifications and his relationship with Barton because we want to determine if there is a conflict of interest here.
With regard to running a nonprofit, a conflict of interest is generally defined as a scenario where the person owning the organization chooses a friend or close associate for a position even though they are not qualified. Their friendship conflicts with their obligation to choose qualified employees. This is not illegal as long as the owner did not choose their friend over a separate applicant. However, there is a practice of nonprofit owners giving money to their friends by giving them a job where they do little or nothing but get paid via contributions to the program. Is that what is happening here?
Who is Driskell? We begin by searching for possible job experience in the field. A search in ProPublica’s database and Open Corporates (which is a good but admittedly not an exhaustive way to search for nonprofit experience) do not show any results that indicate that Driskell had any experience managing a nonprofit as of 2005.
A Google search shows that he is an accountant with his accounting firm though, so he has experience handling money. But the word “nonprofit” does not appear in the section of the website for services offered. Further, the word “nonprofit” appears nowhere on the company website which could suggest that the company does not have experience or offer services for nonprofits.
Driskell and Barton Relationship
While social media is often a great place to start researching if two people have a relationship, neither Driskell nor Barton has much of a social media presence, so we will look at alternative means of investigation.
To begin researching Driskell and Barton’s relationship, let's look into campaign contributions for Barton. We search the FEC database for political contributions here and discover that Driskell and several other people with the same last name (presumed family members) have been donating to Barton’s political campaigns since the 1990s.
Another good database to search for anything related to a member of Congress is Govinfo.gov. At this site, you can look in a variety of government records databases and many related to Congressional documents. This is kind of a Google search of documents related to Congress. What is most important for us is that this database includes transcripts from Congress so we can look for any statements made by Barton about Driskell from the House.
To do this we can search here for any document that has the names of Barton and Driskell together. Our search has one result, which is the transcription of a ceremony from 2008.
Both men attended the ceremony and in the process of their statements, they revealed that they were longtime friends, previously worked together in politics, and were still close. The following are the key highlights:
- Barton’s was quoted saying that his friend “Tommy” is “the guy who got me into politics.”
- Driskell and Barton were from Crockett, Texas, where Driskell used to be the mayor.
- Barton used to be Driskell’s campaign manager.
- In 2008 the men were still good friends, evidenced by the fact that Driskell and his wife interrupted a vacation in South America to attend a ceremony honouring Barton.
Using reKnowledge to identify and record the relationship of the two men within the text of the page.
We now have a good background on Driskell and his relationship with Barton.
Conclusion on Driskell
We know that Driskell has close personal ties with Barton but we arguably did not find reasonable qualifications for his role as the president in the nonprofit.
We could make a subjective argument that Barton faced a conflict of interest between his interest in hiring the best candidate to run the nonprofit as opposed to his interest in supporting a friend and donor. However, this is legally fine.
What is legal
We do not know for certain how the hiring process occurred. From a legal perspective, according to an article about nepotism from Boardeffect.com, someone like Barton could decide to hire a friend. But legally, Barton would be in trouble if another person applied for the job but Barton chose to hire his less-qualified friend instead of a more-qualified second candidate.
Other Foundation Employees
Now we can look at all of the foundation’s officers as a whole and it is clear that the officers are all close associates, family members, and/or friends of Barton. If we look at the foundation’s officers from 2005 to 2008 tax records, most officers have the same last name as the foundation’s founder.
There are also the names of Barton’s aforementioned close associates/friends Martin and Driskell. Another name that appears is Betty Hodges, who was Barton’s mother-in-law. And there is also Catherine Gillespie, who worked for Barton’s political office as his chief-of-staff for over a decade, according to local news. This gives the impression of an organization run by close friends and relatives instead of officers that are best qualified for the positions.
As previously noted, Barton can legally hire his friends and family, and this is not proof of any wrongdoing. However, this setup is a practice used corrupt officials often hire close friends and family because they can be trusted. So in the context of everything else we will learn in this investigation, the foundation’s hiring practices are questionable.
It took the Barton Foundation three years to get around setting up its website, which speaks to the lax and unproductive nature of the organization.
The information about the foundation’s website is available to us today but was not available to the investigators at the time. However, it is worth mentioning only to the extent that it adds to the impression of suspicious behaviour in retrospect.
During the Google searching for this foundation there appeared to be no website. Later, in the 2008 tax returns, we see that the organization did spend money on a website.
It is unusual for an organization with hundreds of thousands of dollars to take 3 years to get around to setting up a website. It is ultimately a tiny bit more evidence suggesting that the foundation was created for the sake of making public statements about the foundation, and less so to do real charity.
If we Google the name of the foundation and the word “website” we see a reference on Guidestar.org (a site that is similar to the ProPublica nonprofit searcher) to a former website’s URL. The website (joebartonfamilyfoundation.org) is no longer active.
We can try to find more information on the website and its history with a tool called Carbon Dating the Web. A search for the foundation’s website in this tool shows some results. The tool estimates that the website was created in 2009 based on the earliest references to the website’s existence.
The results also show where we can find an archived version of the website on archive.org and archive.is:
The website gives us some information about what the foundation was doing. We see that in 2009 the website shows that the foundation had contributed to two projects (the aforementioned pledges to the Boys and Girls Club and Meals on Wheels).
Looking at the website over time does not show a lot of activity in the foundation.
This website still only had the same two projects to its name as of September 2012. To be fair, the next archive for the website in June 2013
showed that a 3rd project had finally been added to the list. But 6 years later (shortly before the website was shut down), the last archive of the website still showed that there were no new projects.
Moving Forward with the Taxes
Now that we have established the framework of what information is relevant and where to find it, let’s begin skimming through the next few tax returns to see what happened to the money beyond the headlines.
In 2006, per its filings, the unnamed contributors gave the foundation another $195,000.
The foundation finally made a donation and gave $90,000 to the local chapter of the Boys & Girls Club.
While $90,000 is a significant amount of money, it is important to contrast it with Barton’s public statements. First, recall that in the local press referenced above Barton had initially announced a pledge to raise up to $400,000.
Even though the foundation’s tax records for 2006 clearly state that it only donated $90,000, the foundation claimed that it raised $375,000, according to an article published September 23rd 2006 in the local newspaper the Corsicana Daily Sun.
A Lot of Expenses, Little Output
Also of interest, the foundation continues to have abnormally high expenses for an organization that does little beyond receiving money and paying out one check. The foundation spent over $60,000 on contract labour and consulting fees. But it is not clear what those services did.
This shows a consistent pattern of an organization that spends a lot of money on itself with high expenses, paid by donors’ money but does very little work. The expenses are always vaguely described as things like “consulting”. In 2007 we see that the foundation did not receive or donate any money, but it managed to spend over $3,000 on accounting and phone bills.
Let’s look at the money from the aggregate. Up through 2007, we see that for two and a half years, the foundation had received $430,000.
However, during that time the foundation only gave out one donation of $90,000 while at the same time the nonprofit paid over $120,000 in expenses.
The 2008 filings showed that Barton hired a new president who was paid $48,000. If you look at the new president’s name, it is hard to deny in this case that Barton has a close personal connection to this individual. Amy Barton, the new president, was Joe Barton’s daughter-in-law.
In 2008 the foundation finally made a second donation, $55,000 to the local Meals on Wheels.
The Statement of Program Services is very interesting.
First, we see that the foundation acknowledges that its role only involves giving financial support to other organizations. This confirms that its role in something like building a new Boys & Girls Club does not involve the actual building, just paying a check. This is relevant because it supports the idea that it is very weird for the foundation to have such high expenses when it is, in theory, not doing much work.
Second, we see another stark comparison between expenses and payouts. Expenses that year are listed at $69,818, while its grant was only $55,000.
Third, there is another disparity between actions and public statements. The foundation pledged to raise up to $500,000, not $55,000.
Finally, and most importantly, we learn how the foundation explains the aforementioned disparity. The organization argues that while it pledged to raise up to $500,000, it believes that it can claim credit for donations from OTHER donors’ who gave their money directly to Meals on Wheels. This allows the foundation to publicly pledge very large dollar amounts while donating much smaller amounts. This is, in the view of this post’s author, as ridiculous as it sounds. We will see in the conclusion that many others shared this view.
We can visualize what we now know about the foundation’s finances during this period below. Donations flow into the foundation and the money is paid out to friend and family in salaries, general internal expenses that were hard to pin down, and some of the money was re-donated to other nonprofits.
Overall, the operation appears to be very inefficient, by turning a large amount in donations on the left (from donors to Barton Foundation) into a much smaller amount of donations to charities (bottom right).
At this point, we have obtained a litany of information proving that Congressman Joe Barton grossly misused the Joe Barton Family Foundation for his benefit.
There are two important notes to be made here.
First, this nonprofit’s activities are not unusual. This example is very standard, which means that you can use the same research methods I have described and you can look for the same kinds of information in other nonprofits.
Second, this information eventually formed the basis of a major investigative news scandal and it is important, and hopefully motivating, to note that anyone could find this information in the open sources referenced above.
While this concludes the investigation, there is an interesting epilogue to the story.
The information above was publicly exposed on April 6th 2009 when an article by Jerry Seper, titled “EXCLUSIVE: Barton Foundation Not So Charitable“, was published in the Washington Times.
Amy Barton pressed for an explanation on the $375,000 claim, resorted to a similar explanation that was provided in the tax filings for the Meals on Wheels project. Per the Washington Times, Amy Barton said the following:
Amy Barton also refused to name the donors.
While Amy Barton refused to name donors, a 2009 report from the New York Times revealed one of the major donors as Exelon Corporation. In June 2008, at a time when Barton had introduced legislation to assist corporations with the recycling of spent nuclear fuel, Barton solicited a $25,000 donation to the Foundation from Exelon, which separately has also donated $80,000 to Barton's campaign funds.
We later learned in an explanation of the scandal by Publicintegrity.org about the reason why Barton insisted on claiming credit for donations made by donors’ directly to the charities (recall that he publicly accepted a check from a donor on behalf of the Boys and Girls Club), instead of asking the donors to give the money to the Barton Foundation.
Where Are They Now?
After the news scandal, the Barton Foundation was investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics but no charges were filed. Ultimately, these revelations were not enough to bring an end to Barton’s political career. Barton managed to get reelected again and then again and he was even honoured in congress with a portrait ceremony. But that is not the conclusion of Joe Barton’s political story.
Barton remained in office until his career was ultimately ended by the Me Too movement. Barton stepped down from office in 2018 after being caught in a string of sex scandals.
Barton’s Foundation more or less faded out, mostly spending cash on its expenses. The last tax filing available from ProPublica, from 2017, showed the foundation gained $600 but spent over $4,000
After his somewhat undignified departure from politics, Barton still had his longtime friend Gary Martin hosting a sort of goodbye ceremony in his home in 2018 “in honour and appreciation of Congressman Joe Barton”.