Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal isn't on anyone's short list of prospective Republican
presidential candidates, but the young Southern governor
could make an attractive running mate for one of the hopefuls. But first he may have to answer some questions about a charitable foundation set up by his wife, Supriya.
The Supriya Jindal Foundation, founded in 2008, has spent about $1 million, much of it for high-tech interactive whiteboards for file sharing at public schools, many in low income neighborhoods. The foundation, which has won praise for its efforts, has been funded in part by large contributions from oil companies, a major communications firm and at least one defense contractor, all of which do business with the state, according to a review by the New York Times
and a Washington nonprofit watchdog group.
AT&T and Marathon Oil, each pledging $250,000, and Northrop Grumman, in for $10,000, were cited by the newspaper as foundation benefactors that successfully navigated regulatory issues before the state of Louisiana.
Elected officials with ties to charitable foundations can reap favorable publicity from the good works performed by the charities, while donors in turn try to curry favor in Washington or state capitals. Jindal, whose national profile rose during the BP oil spill
last year, has made strengthening Louisiana's ethics rules a focal point of his administration.
A Jindal aide said the governor has not intervened personally to assist any of the foundation's contributors and he dismissed as ridiculous any notion of political motivations related to the charity. "It is a completely nonpolitical, nonpartisan organization created by the first lady, who, as an engineer and the mother of three children, has a passion for helping our young people learn science and math," said the governor's press secretary, Kyle Plotkin. "Anything other than this reality has plainly been dreamed up by partisan hacks living in a fantasy land."
Critics say it just doesn't smell right. "It may be a good cause, but it creates the appearance he is being bribed," Anne Rolfes of the environmental group Louisiana Bucket Brigade told the Times. "And if you are truly committed to ethical behavior, you just need to stay away from it all together." Contributors giving to Gov. Jindal's political organization are limited to $5,000 per election, or $10,000 for certain political action committees.
Melanie Sloan, director Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics
, said, "Donations that come into charities like this are almost always from folks who want something from a politician. It is a troubling phenomenon." Sloan's nonprofit did a significant amount of the research on the Jindal foundation that was used in the Times story.