Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GOP Congress Targets Funding for Lobbyists New Bills Would Change the Way Washington Works

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GOP Congress Targets Funding for Lobbyists New Bills Would Change the Way Washington Works

Article excerpt

THUMB through a Washington phone book and it's easy to see why Americans are suspicious of "special interests." Thousands of tax-exempt groups keep offices here, ranging in scope from lofty (the Alliance for Justice), to downright specific (the Cement Kiln Recycling Association). There's even an association for people who run associations.

But Republicans in Congress want to change all this. Years of lax oversight, they say, have turned some of these organizations into leeches: accepting government grants and tax breaks one day, then lobbying Congress the next.

In their defense, interest groups say they are a crucial cog in the government's crank: providing social services, conducting research, and giving millions of Americans a voice in the legislative process.

If Republicans scale back subsidies for interest groups, it would not only change the dynamics of thousands of policy debates, but could fundamentally change the way Washington works.

"Interest groups have almost become another branch of government," says Frank Baumgartner, a political scientist at Texas A&M University. Not only does government "depend on these organizations to do a lot of its work," he says, but the groups have come to represent "just about every American in one way or another."

In response, the Vernonia (Ore.) School District barred James from the gridiron. Administrators had instituted a random drug-testing program in the late 1980s to combat what they perceived to be drug problems and a lack of discipline.

Athletes were chosen as the test subjects because more than half of the school's 690 students, including its most popular leaders, played sports. If athletes were drug free, the thinking went, the rest of the student body would follow.

Indeed, when arguing the case before the high court, Vernonia's lawyers claimed that drug testing had seemed to lessen rowdy behavior, especially among student clubs such as the "Big Elks," whose members would roam school halls shouting and butting heads.

Problem was, Vernonia's policy went beyond what many legal scholars held to be permissible. They based their beliefs on a 1985 Supreme Court ruling in which justices had upheld the search of a 14-year-old girl's purse for cigarettes on the grounds that smoke in the bathroom provided "reasonable suspicion."

Authorities in Vernonia had no reason to suspect James Acton of using drugs, after all. They were just instituting a general policy.

Vernonia's lawyers argued that the "reasonable suspicion" criterion should be shifted and that random searches should be allowed for all students - thus putting them on the same legal footing as adults responsible for the lives of others, such as airline pilots. The Supreme Court has now sided with this view. …

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