By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
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."