By Reid Wilson - 06/12/09 01:42 PM EDT
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) augments his salary by taking $20,000 in a side business capitalizing on his career as a Hall of Fame pitcher.
Bunning accepts the salary through the Jim Bunning Foundation, which charges baseball memorabilia companies for the senator's appearances. Bunning is not able to charge for autographs himself, because of ethics rules, but the money can go to a foundation.
The foundation was created in 1996, when Bunning was a member of the House of Representatives. In 2008, IRS documents show Bunning attended two autograph-signing events, for which the foundation was paid $12,595. Along with a licensing program run by the Hall of Fame, the foundation took in a total of $16,091.
But as Bunning was being paid as the foundation's sole employee, the Jim Bunning Foundation has consistently donated less than the $20,000 the senator collects. The foundation has never given more than $19,575 in a year, according to IRS documents and documents Bunning has filed with the Senate.
Last year, the foundation donated $16,350. In 2007, it handed out $18,200 to non-profit organizations. It is an arrangement that has raised eyebrows among open-government advocates and watchdogs.
"It's probably legal, but I think it's really questionable," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "He created a charity to allow himself to do what he otherwise couldn't do, which is taking money for signing baseballs."
Bunning's Senate office did not return an e-mail and a message seeking comment. Richard Robinson, a Cincinnati attorney who serves on the foundation's board and is listed as the contact person on IRS forms, could not be reached.
"Members are not supposed to have second jobs," said Bill Allison, a senior researcher at the Sunlight Foundation. "It's just a little bit strange to have a foundation supposedly for charitable purposes that's paying you a salary."
"It's fine for members of Congress to have charities. It's fine for them to donate money. It's a little bizarre for them to take a salary out of that," Allison said.
Bunning faces the prospect of a difficult challenge in both the primary and general election in 2010. At least two Republicans have already said they intend to challenge him in the primary, and a potentially strong challenger, Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R), has opened an exploratory committee after Bunning gave him the blessing to do so.
Though he has said he will run for a third term in 2010, Bunning has sparred with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas), both of whom have publicly said they did not know Bunning's plans.
McConnell has not endorsed Bunning, and the formerly close relationship between the two has become frosty. Bunning has criticized McConnell for serving as the Senate GOP leader when the party has lost so many seats over the past two cycles.
Bunning, who holds a weekly conference call with Kentucky reporters, also said he is glad not to have McConnell's support, pointing to the 2008 election, in which McConnell won a fifth term by a close margin, as evidence that the senior Kentucky senator is losing support. The conference calls have become an event in their own right, with Bunning earning headlines — both good and bad — virtually every week.
Cornyn has backed off his comments and has acknowledged Bunning's interest in a third term, but Republican strategists in Washington and Kentucky widely acknowledge what polls seem to indicate — that Bunning would not be the strongest Republican candidate on the ticket in 2010.
If Bunning does survive the primary, he will face the winner of what could be a hard-fought primary on the other side of the aisle: between Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D), who came within a whisker of upsetting Bunning in 2004, and Attorney General Jack Conway (D). In his first six weeks in the race, Mongiardo raised more than Bunning did in the entire first quarter of 2009.
Sources tell The Hill that Conway is expected to outraise Bunning as well. Conway files his first Federal Election Commission reports in mid-July.
-- This article was updated at 3:26 p.m.