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Barbara Bush made donation — provided her son's firm got it
HOUSTON — Former first lady Barbara Bush contributed money to a hurricane-relief fund on the condition that it be spent to buy educational software from her son Neil's company.
Jean Becker, the chief of staff of former President George H.W. Bush, would not disclose the amount earmarked for purchases from Ignite Learning.
Since Barbara Bush's gift, the Ignite Learning program has been given to eight public schools with high numbers of Hurricane Katrina evacuees, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The money was donated to the Bush-Clinton Houston Hurricane Relief Fund, said Steve Maislin, president of the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which administers the fund. That fund has no connection to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, he said.
Maislin said it's not unusual for a contributor to specify how his or her money should be spent.
But Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog group, said donors who direct that their money be used to buy products from a family business set a bad precedent. "If everybody started doing that, it would ruin our whole system for tax-exempt organizations because people would be using them to benefit their business rather than for the public benefit," he said.
Two years ago, the Houston school district board wrestled with conflict-of-interest concerns over the Ignite program. Neil Bush had helped raise $115,000 for the district's philanthropic fund from donors who insisted the money be spent on his company's software. The district accepted the donations and used them to pay half the costs of new Ignite software, about $10,000 per school.
Neil Bush founded the Austin-based company in 1999.
Comments from Steve Maislin and Daniel Borochoff were reported by the Los Angeles Times.
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