American Cancer Society officials said Monday they did nothing wrong by donating $30,000 this year to the Democratic and Republican governors' associations.
It is the first known instance of a charity donating money to a political party, said Dan Langan, spokesman for the National Charities Information Bureau, a 70-year-old watchdog group that monitors 300 national charities.
Charities such as the American Cancer Society are forbidden by law to donate money to parties for political purposes. But the Cancer Society responded to a public disclosure Monday about the donations by saying it did not break any laws because the parties used the contributions to host conferences and not to elect candidates.
"We assiduously avoid any electioneering," said John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the Cancer Society, which has its national headquarters in Atlanta.
The donations allowed the Cancer Society to attend governors' forums, dinners and meetings. The Cancer Society gave $5,000 to each governors' association last year, but increased the donation to $15,000 to each group this year.
The donations are likely legal, Langan said.
"If they were gaining admittance to seminars to educate the governors about their mission," he said, "that brings it a lot closer to a legitimate use of funds by a charity."
Cancer Society officials say they had no choice but to make the contributions.
"We're the only organization out there at war with the tobacco industry," said Bill Dalton, chief counsel for the charity. The only way to get inside these [political] groups is to make a contribution. Damn it all, we are out to save lives."
Some analysts say the Cancer Society's decision to make contributions is indicative of the pay-to-play climate prevalent in today's political system.
"It's a reflection that they recognize that the only way to get political attention is to play by a writing a check," sais Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes the Rothenberg Political Report. "That [writing a check] is not unnoticed."
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