By Yaël Ossowski | Special to Watchdog.org
If a celebrity is looking to drop a couple of million bucks into a charity for some good publicity, Cory Booker is the man to call.
In the past few years, the mayor of Newark and Democrat U.S. Senate hopeful from New Jersey has attracted high-profile donations from the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and TV host Oprah Winfrey. Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to better Newark schools and Winfrey promised a quarter of a million for Booker’s personal charity.
Winfrey’s “gifts will directly empower hundreds and hundreds of Newark families and help source our city’s success,” Booker said in 2009 after the influential media magnate’s donation to his group.
“We rejoice in Oprah’s generosity and celebrate her life commitment to serving others,” Booker said.
In fact, Zuckerberg announced his prized donation on Oprah’s program alongside Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, appearing on the same day the film “The Social Network“, which tells the story of Facebook’s founding, premiered in theaters.
Rather than just being a public face for goodwill donations to his city, the 44-year old Democratic mayor is the financial and legal owner of them, filtering the large donations through his personal charity to the causes as he so desires.
It was in 2003, a year after he was elected mayor, that Booker founded Newark Now Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on giving job training and support to members of the community. Since then, the organization has brought big money and big names into the north New Jersey city, allowing Booker to moonlight as a liaison to the rich and famous looking to boost their image.
According to the 990 tax form completed by Booker’s nonprofit last year, Newark Now Inc. netted $2.1 million in donations in 2012 alone, attracting not just celebrities but also contractors looking to do business with the state.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger called Newark Now the “go-to marketplace for city contractors” in a 2011 article, alleging Booker used the nonprofit to accept payments from businesses hoping to land contracts with the city of Newark. Booker and his campaign denied the allegations brought up against his charity.
Critics, such as the American Commitment Action Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative Super PAC, highlight criticisms of mayor’s “cheerleader” and “celebrity” status which left the city with an “absentee mayor,” according their previous political ad.
The Booker campaign did not respond to numerous requests for comment from Watchdog.org’s.
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