Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

A Real Close-Up Look

Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

A Real Close-Up Look

Article excerpt

Every year thousands of high school students from across the country get classy-looking invites to travel to their nation's capital and see how their government works. The honor comes with a price tag: $730 for a six-day tour and $1,260 for the deluxe 11-day program - plus air fare, lunches and incidentals.

What the honored students don't see - and something that their parents, who usually pay their way, might find more interesting than the standard "how a bill becomes a law" lecture - is how some tour groups work.

Take the Congressional Youth Leadership Council (CYLC), for example. Its certified-mail "nominating" papers have informed recipients they were exceptional students who had been chosen, along with 350 others from across the country, to represent their states as "Congressional Scholars" at a "very special week" in Washington. The letters didn't tell them they would be among 9,000 students attending one of 24 "special" tour weeks a year conducted by (CYLC), that it had rented their names and addresses from a national survey firm or, according to press reports, that at least two D-average students and one expelled gang member are among those so "honored." Each year the council sends out more than 100,000 letters to students.

A lot of the money coming in to CYLC is passed on to the for-profit National Capital Resources (NCR), a management and marketing firm. NCR is run by Richard Rossi and Barbara Harris, the founders of CYLC and, until recently, its officers and 40 percent of its board of directors. Harris still serves on the board. NCR's sole function until recently was to manage and market CYLC's programs. It now has "one other major client," according to CYLC Executive Director John Hines: the nonprofit National Youth Leadership Forum, a similar program also founded by Harris and Rossi.

A bill recently introduced by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and cosponsored by Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) would require groups like CYLC, the Close Up Foundation, Presidential Classroom For Young Americans and Washington Workshop to explain how participating students were chosen and how their money is spent.

What's behind the bill, which would impose a sort of truth-in-advertising requirement on the democracy-in-action business, is a combination of what Sen. …

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