Thursday, September 08, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Gov. Rick Perry, in hurricane relief tours around the state, in news releases and on his official state Web site, has urged Texans to contribute to three groups: the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the OneStar Foundation," the Dallas Morning News reports.

The last of those is a non-profit founded by Perry. His prominent promotion of his own foundation has prompted some to question whether the governor is trying to benefit politically from the outpouring of sympathy and good works in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"One thing about politicians, you can never overestimate their shamelessness," Fred Lewis, director of Campaigns for People, told the paper. Lewis' group favors greater disclosure of political donations and limits on the influence of large donors.

Perry created OneStar as a nonprofit charitable organization in January 2004 to coordinate faith-based initiatives and promote volunteerism. Its chief executive is Susan Weddington, who left the state Republican Party chairmanship to run the organization.

***

While admitting that hurricane relief is outside OneStar's traditional purpose, the governor's press secretary, Kathy Wait, told the Morning News that OneStar was the natural vehicle to help coordinate statewide donation efforts. Weddington told the paper that her office is serving as a clearinghouse for evacuee relief efforts.

But isn't that spin? No other states have felt the need to funnel their citizens' donations through a faith-based initiative. That includes other states neighboring the area hit by Katrina.

Again, OneStar's role is not to work with religious institutions, but rather with "individuals and businesses" that want to make donations. Isn't that why there are organizations such as the Red Cross and the Salavation Army? For those who want to give to Texas-only agencies -- as Texas is absorbing one in three displaced Gulf Coast residents -- can't the state simply provide a list of addresses and phone numbers?

After all, OneStar isn't actually providing relief to people. They're just a "clearinghouse," meaning that they are sending the money and materials to various non-profits. But unless the OneStar employees are all volunteering -- and there's no indication they are -- doesn't creating this clearinghouse" give OneStar a piece of the hurricane relief pie that they don't deserve?

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Even advocates of OneStar admit that Perry using OneStar is self-serving.

"Does it look like that there might be an incidental self-serving aspect to it? Perhaps," Suzii Paynter, director of citizenship for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, told the Morning News. "My experience with politicians is that if you give them a handle, they'll grab it."

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