Rachel Maddow   |  November 12, 2009

Congressman Buyer in the hot seat

Nov. 12: Rachel Maddow plays excerpts of a CBS interview with Rep. Steve Buyer, R-IN, about the questionable accounting of his non-profit organization.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MADDOW: When Congressman Steve Buyer of Indiana looks back on 2009 , he`ll be able to say that this was his breakthrough year. This was the year that all of America learned that it looks like "buyer" but it sounds like Buyer . This is the year he got a national profile for all the wrong reasons.

First, there was his argument that smoking tobacco is really not that different than smoking lettuce. Yes, he is a big recipient of R.J. Reynolds donations, why do you ask? Then there was his outrageous argument that health reform was a secret plot to hurt veterans.

But what`s making him nationally famous now is his charity, the Frontier Foundation , which was supposedly founded to give Indiana kids college scholarships, but which in its six years of existence, has yet to actually give out a single one even though it`s raised over $800,000.

Last night on the " CBS Evening News ," investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson interviewed Congressman about his foundation , asking him first why the offices of this mysterious foundation were empty.

SHARYL ATTKISSON, CBS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Why doesn`t the Frontier Foundation have a physical address currently?

REP. STEVE BUYER (R-IN): Well, you know, I think first of all, you have to ask the foundation that question. The foundation the president of the foundation called me last Thursday night. I think the 29th.

And they had held a board meeting. And she wanted to tell me about some of the positive things that they were doing. And one of which is they wanted to immediately relocate, and they did. They moved out that night.

And I think that was a good thing, because that`s about you know, I spoke with the foundation when I told folks in Indiana that I would do a review. I was so focused on helping them achieve their goal of $1 million endowment. But you know, I didn`t pay as much attention to appearances as I should have.

MADDOW: Appearances. What things look like. A reasonable concern has to be said when the congressman`s foundation is raising money from companies who have interests before the congressman right out of the congressman`s campaign office.

ATKINSON: In retrospect, do you think it was inappropriate that they were collocated with your campaign office?

BUYER: You know, I guess I was so focused on them wanting to make sure they could save money, you know.

MADDOW: You know, they could save money. The foundation spent more than $100,000 on fundraising and sending the congressman out to play golf in exotic locales with corporate donors, while at the same time doling out precisely zero dollars in scholarship money, the cause for which it was purportedly raising all those funds.

ATKINSON: Where did the $25,000 to start the foundation come from?

BUYER: You know what? I was asked that question and I don`t recall.

ATKINSON: How can you not know where the $25,000 came from?

BUYER: I don`t seriously, I don`t recall. It could have been from pharma. It would have been from one of the companies. I don`t know. You have to ask the foundation with .

ATKINSON: Well, the foundation won`t answer our questions. I`ve talked to the foundation .

BUYER: It had to come from one of those major donors. But I don`t remember.

ATKINSON: Can you find out? This is something that would seem to be important. Can you find out for us after interview today?

BUYER: First of all, please ask the foundation that type of question, but I don`t recall.

MADDOW: The foundation did E-mail CBS after the interview to say the $25,000 seed money for the foundation came from pharma, the drug lobby , which has actually donated $200,000 to the foundation , and which hired the congressman`s son to be its federal affairs manager in 2008 , and which lobbies on drug regulations before the House Energy and Commerce Committee , of which the Congressman Buyer is a member.

ATKINSON: One reason it`s controversial, from what I can tell, all of the donors have interests before committees that you sit on in Congress . Why is that?

BUYER: Well, the committees in which were the committees the corporations which provided support, as I said, were those original companies. And I also would say that these companies, of whom have contributed, do not assume.

I`ve seen your follow the money piece before I saw what you did to Obama . So please do not assume that if a company contributes to a foundation that somehow that`s some type of influence upon what I`m about to do.

MADDOW: No influence, you say? This is your cue, Sheryl Atkinson of CBS go, go, go, go.

ATKINSON: In `07, you helped kill a three-year ban on advertising new drugs. In `08 you sponsored the safeguarding of America `s Pharmaceutical Act , which is one of the pharmaceutical industry `s top priorities.

This year you`ve cosponsored tougher penalties for counterfeit drugs , all after these generous donations from the pharmaceutical industry to the foundation .

BUYER: Who I am and my core beliefs do not change. I`m the same person I am before I came to office and the same person now. I`ll be the same person when I walk out of this office.

So people support who you are and what you believe in. And so trying to match up legislation like that is erroneous. You shouldn`t do that, Sheryl . I think it`s wrong.

MADDOW: What`s not wrong, according to Congressman Buyer , the links between his foundation that doesn`t give out any scholarships and the tobacco industry that donates to the foundation anyway. And yes, Buyer `s committee has jurisdiction over tobacco regulation as well.

ATKINSON: Tobacco interests tobacco interests have given tens of thousands of dollar to your foundation . Last April, you opposed a bill to give FDA authority to regulate tobacco. You instead sponsored an R.J. Reynolds -supported alternative.

BUYER: I created this. I created no one else created this. I came up with trying to create a new public health position on tobacco. You`re conducting an interview here that is picking and choosing areas that may try to fit a story.

And you`re trying to fit a story whereby, gee, if I follow the money, I can show how it influences a member of Congress . And you`re ignoring the fact that pharma, the largest contributor to the foundation , is supporting Obama care for which I vehemently oppose.

So if you go to the air and print your story without telling that side of it, then, this is not a fair and balanced story. I just want you to know that. Now, what I`m doing right now is I`m looking at and I spoke with the president of the foundation on things that we can do to address people`s concerns with regard to appearance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: CBS correspondent Sheryl Atkinson says she would have asked Congressman Buyer more questions except that the interview ended abruptly when the congressman got up and rushed out to a congressional meeting or something.

Congressman Steve Buyer is getting more and more famous all the time now. Maybe this is karma for him trying to scare veterans.