The complicated relationship between the now-shamed Lance Armstrong and his charity foundation LIVESTRONG just became a whole lot more sordid, as new details have emerged showing that Armstrong used donor funds from the non-profit cancer organization to lobby Congress for his own personal gain.
Despite the fact that he had been making upwards of $7.5 million a year just from the merchandise sales associated with his Nike sponsorship, not to mention his various other sponsorships and the hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop and other lavish perks he received for speaking engagements and other formalities, Armstrong reportedly used his foundation’s cash funds to instigate a probe into the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
As most people who have been following the saga are now well aware, the USADA played a pivotal role in exposing Armstrong’s illegal doping activities, which ultimately led to the stripping of his seven Tour de France titles and the complete unraveling of his reputation as a respected athlete. And in an attempt to prevent the group from holding him accountable during the early days of the investigation, Armstrong apparently sent LIVESTRONG-funded lobbyists to Washington to do his personal bidding.
According to reports, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who also serves on the House Appropriations Committee, was one of several Congressmen targeted by LIVESTRONG lobbyists in an effort to guard Armstrong from scrutiny. Others included Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the latter two of which sponsored legislation basically questioning the USADA’s athlete review process.
“It was definitely not an ‘ethical best practice,'” said Sandra Miniutti, a spokeswoman for the watchdog group Charity Navigator, about the shocking revelation. “What is the intent of donors when they donate money to a charity? In this case, it was not helping a celebrity founder take care of his problems.”
Following the International Cycling Union (UCI)’s acceptance of the USADA decision to strip Armstrong of his titles, most of the former cyclist’s sponsorships also came to an abrupt end. Recent reports indicate that Nike, Trek, Budweiser, and now Oakley have all severed their ties with Armstrong, while UCI has asked Armstrong to return the nearly $4 million he illegitimately received in conjunction with his ill-gotten Tour de France titles.
“I don’t believe the LIVESTRONG people are dumb enough to break any laws, but if they were using my money to lobby against USADA, that would be inappropriate,” said one anonymous LIVESTRONG donor to the New York Daily News (NYDN) after learning about the controversy.
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