Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should Congress Limit Lobbying by Nonprofit Groups That Receive Federal Grants?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should Congress Limit Lobbying by Nonprofit Groups That Receive Federal Grants?

Article excerpt

There is a dirty little secret in Washington that has existed for 40 years. Each year the government hands out approximately $160 billion in taxpayer grants to thousands of nonprofit groups. While many of these groups do charitable work that benefits society -- feeding the poor, housing the homeless or preserving the environment -- others engage in sophisticated lobbying and political advocacy. And some nonprofits even do their lobbying at taxpayers' expense.

When I first ran for Congress last year, and even after I was sworn in last January, I had no idea that our tax dollars were subsidizing welfare for lobbyists. What the 104th Congress has found since January is that while many nonprofits do indeed perform charitable work, others see their primary mission as lobbying. Instead of representing people, these groups represent special interests, each with a vested interest in seeing that government continues growing ever-larger and spending more and more tax dollars.

The National Council of Senior Citizens, or NCSC, for example, receives a whopping 95 percent of its budget, or $73 million, from the taxpayers, yet its political-action committee contributed $405,000 to candidates for the House and Senate during the last four years. The NCSC is lobbying aggressively, including purchasing television and radio ads, against Congress' efforts to balance the budget. In an investigative series on lobbying by taxpayer-financed groups, the New York Post reported that the "first 15 pages of its [NCSC's] 32-page annual report detail NCSC's extensive `advocacy' activities, including ... lobbying for Clinton's health-care plan and against the [proposed] balanced-budget amendment." Also, according to the Post: "The NCSC successfully fought cuts in a program especially important to its bottom line: the Section 202 federal housing subsidy for seniors, which brings in tens of millions to its subsidiary, NCSC-housing Management Corp."

The NCSC is not alone in funding its lobbying activities with taxpayer dollars. Other nonprofits using this tactic include:

* The American Bar Association, or ABA. The ABA, which will spend $2 million lobbying this year, staged a rally at the Capitol on Flag Day last June to protest the proposed constitutional amendment against desecration of the American flag. The ABA also has distributed a lobbying package complete with talking points, strategy and vote tallies to its members and others in the association's lobbying campaign to prevent the elimination of the Legal Services Corp., which focuses on advancing a liberal social agenda rather than helping the poor with ordinary legal problems. All this, while the ABA will receive at least $10 million this year in taxpayer-financed grants.

* The Child Welfare League of America. This group received more than $260,000 in taxpayer grants last year and now is lobbying -- including buying advertising -- to increase welfare spending. The ads oppose Republican welfare reforms by saying that, if passed: "More children will be raped. More children will be killed."

* The Nature Conservancy. According to its own performance review, this group used a $44,000 taxpayer grant from the Department of Commerce to lobby for the defeat of a referendum in Monroe County, Fla. The Nature Conservancy is the nation's richest environmental "nonprofit" organization, with assets of $850 million.

The lobbying and political activity of these taxpayer-funded nonprofits are an affront to every taxpayer because taxpayers are footing the bill. Taxpayers are subsidizing welfare for lobbyists.

At a hearing the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs convened in September, Isaac Randolph of the St. Florian Center in Indianapolis testified that many smaller nonprofits -- those without Washington lobbyists and which receive little or no taxpayer subsidy -- are at a competitive disadvantage with other nonprofits that receive hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in taxpayer grants. …

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