Photo by AP/Wide WorldYou've heard about his wild past, his Quayle-like verbal gaffes, his obvious disregard for world affairs and yet—at the risk of hyperbole—what is surely the most damning controversy ever to rock George W. Bush's presidential campaign is playing out in Orange County.
Swirling around this imbroglio is a 72-year-old Tustin woman, her decades of charitable work, an attack on her by a nonprofit organization with close ties to a former U.S. president, an ex-bartender's demand for $100 million—and the stony silence of a man who is just a hop, skip and stump speech away from the most powerful office in the most powerful nation in the world.
Since the mid-1980s, artist/do-gooder Nancy Fontaine has run a charity called Pointes of Light Foundation. Her art manager says Pointes of Light —”pointes” as in the ballet term—was copyrighted in 1989. Among Pointes of Lights' accomplishments: arranging a meeting between a 12-year-old Santa Ana boy with an inoperable brain tumor and his hero, Michael Jordan; dance lessons for a 5-year-old Huntington Beach girl who was recovering from a stroke; a trip to the U.S. for a 3-year-old boy from the Philippines who needed surgery to remove a tumor near the bridge of his nose that rendered him nearly blind; visas for family members to be with a 1-year-old girl from the tip of Baja, Mexico, as she was treated here for a life-threatening heart condition; a trip to bring a 5-year-old boy from the Philippines here for treatment of a serious deformity; and the list goes on.
Meanwhile, the national Points of Light Foundation—inspired by President George Bush's “1,000 Points of Light” campaign to combat hunger, poverty and homelessness through volunteerism—was founded in January 1990 and trademarked in November 1991. The elder Bush remains the nonprofit's honorary chairman.
In 1996, a Points of Light attorney sent Fontaine a letter demanding she drop the name Pointes of Light or face legal action. She wrote back explaining that her foundation was older than his.
Fontaine never heard back, so she assumed the matter was resolved. She said she also decided not to take legal action over what may have been the Bush foundation's illegal name use because, she says, she wanted her charitable work to “embellish” upon what the former president's organization was doing.
In April, Fontaine wrote what she calls “a beautiful letter” to Points of Light seeking help for her latest charitable projects, which include creating a multicultural learning center, the “Triumph of the Human Spirit Living Biographies” for catastrophic illness, and a United Youth Congress, in which child representatives from around the country would meet just like their elders on Capitol Hill. In the past, Fontaine explained to the Bush people, her philosophy on charity work was never to accept money, “diverting” any donations sent her way directly to those in need. But that was when she worked full-time at convalescent homes and was a successful artist with works hanging in the Vatican, JFK's Memorial Library and the Smithsonian Institute's Space Museum. She has since retired from nursing homes, and her latest artwork isn't moving.
“[I]t has become mandatory to have a site, equipment to operate and a salary for myself and an executive assistant to function much more successfully,” Fontaine wrote in her letter to Points of Light president Robert K. Goodwin.
Goodwin wrote back on May 6. But instead of offering assistance, he accused Fontaine of using an “unauthorized adaptation” of the Points of Light name. He demanded Fontaine respond within a month to say she'd stopped using Pointes of Light.
Fontaine struck back, hiring a lawyer. On May 24, the lawyer sent Goodwin a letter stating she had “superior rights” to the name and that his client should expect no further interference from Points of Light.
But that apparently isn't the end of it. Fontaine's art manager Ken Yusem says a Points of Light official recently told him over the phone that the organization was deciding how to proceed in the matter at its annual conference that ended July 5 in Orlando, Florida. Meanwhile, Goodwin's letter has so incensed Fontaine that she is planning to sue Points of Light . . .
For $100 million!
Actually, Fontaine doesn't mention the $100 million figure. That role is left to Yusem, a 34-year-old former bartender at Perq's on Main Street in Huntington Beach. While at Perq's, Yusem befriended the artist's son, Stephen Fontaine, a rock singer who has done stints with past-their-prime incarnations of Survivor and Uriah Heep. After Stephen introduced Yusem to his mother, she took Yusem on to manage her art affairs.
“An artist is no good until they're dead,” said Yusem—not that he's wishing that on Fontaine, calling her “like Mother Teresa to me.”
“It's a bad financial situation,” he said. “She is not able to take care of herself. I'm helping her get financially sound with her art. She's hurting right now. It's a letdown personally. I've put myself in a big hole. I know it's going to turn around. I want to see her secure.”
Yusem, who says he lost his Perq's job because of all the time he devotes to Fontaine, is obviously itching for payback. During a June 29 interview with the pair at Coco's in Tustin, Fontaine said the Bush foundation can take the credit for the United Youth Congress. “All I want is for them to help me,” she said. “I just want to get this done.”
“No, no! Not after what they have done,” Yusem interjected. “I've invested too much into this. They need to reimburse you for all your activities.”
Yusem says he believes it is possible donors have confused Bush's foundation with Fontaine's.
“They've done a lot of great things; I don't want to take that away from them,” he said of Points of Light. “But at the same time, they stole this foundation's name. That's the whole basis of the argument: confusion. They have purposely created the confusion.”
Does he think former President Bush even knows of this scandal?
“I'd assume Robert Goodwin would be man enough to tell the honorary chairman that they have a problem.”
Yusem points to this evidence to support his allegations against Points of Light:
•Then-Congressman Bob Dornan (R-Garden Grove) arranged for Fontaine to attend a cocktail reception honoring then-Vice President George Bush at the Disneyland Hotel on May 4, 1986. Fontaine says Bush introduced himself to her at that reception. When Dornan told the vice president of her many charitable accomplishments, Fontaine recalls, Bush told her, “What a point of light you are.”
•A May 29, 1990, letter from Barbara Bush to Fontaine states, “It is a great pleasure to send greetings to all involved with the 'Pointes of Light' Volunteer Student Cultural Program.”
•In August 1990, Fontaine received the George Washington Medal of Honor from the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge. The award—for her work with Pointes of Light—was bestowed on her by George Bush, the Freedom Foundation's honorary chairman.
•Another letter from Bar, this one on White House letterhead and dated May 17, 1991, states, “Community groups like 'Pointes of Light' who do wonderful things to our precious children will leave a long and lasting mark on our nation.”
Laying out his evidence, Yusem concludes, “They're hung. And they're trying to run a bus over this lady. And their son is running for president.”
It upsets Yusem that the younger Bush can apparently tiptoe into the Oval Office without any of this controversy so much as soiling the bottoms of his wingtips.
“We're not trying to sabotage George W. Bush,” Yusem insisted. “May the best man win. Personally, I'm for Gore. I can't get over Gary Graham; I'm against the death penalty. But Nancy has nothing but good things to say about George W. Bush.”
“And what does this have to do with this campaign?” asked Bush spokesman Scott McClellan when we called the national campaign headquarters on June 29, hoping to get a reaction to all this. “I'd refer you to President Bush's foundation.”
We explained that Points of Light was conveniently holding its annual conference in Orlando through July 5 and that we'd left our number on their office answering machine, but the recording explained they would only infrequently check messages.
“Annual conference?” asked McClellan. “What's that?”
That wasn't important right now, we explained. What is important is that the foundation tied to his candidate's father is in a pissing match with a foundation run by a 72-year-old woman who's known and loved for her prodigious good work in conservative Orange County. And, we might add (and did), his candidate has swung through conservative Orange County several times to pick up an awful lot of campaign cash. With Orange County such a major base of support for the Bush campaign, surely they don't want this controversy boiling up right now.
Oh, and Fontaine is tight with Bob Dornan.
“I'm not sure I even understand this,” McClellan said.
We explained that the Los Angeles Times had written about this controversy (“She Fights to Keep 'Pointes of Light' Aglow,” June 10). We faxed him a copy of that story and noted on the cover sheet that Ms. Fontaine now wants $100 million. We gave McClellan a deadline of the following day to react.
The next day, having read the fax, McClellan called back to further distance the Bush campaign from the sins of the father—or, at least, the father's foundation.
“I looked at the article,” McClellan admitted. “The campaign has no involvement whatsoever in this matter. Neither are we familiar with it.”
Yusem told the Weekly that he had contacted several people about the matter, including a private attorney, the American Civil Liberties Union, Al Gore's presidential campaign and—you guessed it—Dubya's campaign.
We asked Yusem how Bush 2000 reacted to his call.
“Uh, I didn't actually call,” he said. “I sent them an e-mail. I haven't heard back.”
Indeed, the Fontaine case has produced a virtual media blackout.
“Lots of people are scared,” Fontaine said of people's reluctance to come forward. “No one wants to attack the shark.”
“They are very powerful,” Yusem said of the Bush family.
While awaiting the Points of Light Foundation's next move, Yusem is lobbying Dornan to air Fontaine's story on his nationally syndicated radio program, The Bob Dornan Show.
Fontaine noted that Dornan's former secretary wrote her a jingle that went, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star; Pointes of Light is what you are.”
This flap may indeed be close to Dornan's heart. He has bought two paintings from Fontaine, and he knows something about a better-known national figure stealing ideas from the less famous: Pat Buchanan ripped off Dornan's “Faith Family Freedom” campaign motto in the 1996 GOP presidential primary.
Yusem is also trying to raise money through the sale of Fontaine's original artwork of Willie Nelson, Theodore Bikel, Marlon Brando and Red Skelton. Her next project is Mt. Rockmore, a piece inspired by Mount Rushmore that replaces the presidential busts with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and John Lennon.
With that project, Fontaine says she is girding herself for another round of veiled legal threats—this time from Yoko Ono.
Nancy Fontaine's artwork can be viewed at www.hbcainfo.com (click on “business links”).
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.