An End Run on Legal Services?

Report Crime and Justice

An End Run on Legal Services?

June 24, 1984 3 min read Download Report
Stuart M.

(Archived document, may contain errors)

6/27/84 58


The Senate is poised to vote on an appropriations bill for the Legal Service s Corporation (LSC) that would give grantees virtual carte blanche to use legal aid money, intended for the poor, for campaignin-g---dUring this election .year. The measure also would block promising low-cost private sector alternatives to legal services a ttorneys and stifle'Corporation attempts to scrutinize illegal activities by grantees. The-House already has passed an appropriations bill that would "zero- fund" the Corporation. This was a.technical maneuver by the House leader- ship to forestall moves to curb political activities by legal services lawyers. The Senate Committee on Appropriations has reported out a measure (H.R. 5712), with a funding level of $297 million for the Corporation, and the full Senate is due to vote soon.

If passed, the Committ ee report would sideline Administration.attempts to end the use of legal aid money for political campaigning by scrapping duly passed,LSC Board regulations on-lobbying. These rules were passed in April, after a General Accounting Office (GAO) report recom m ended more stringent regulations to combat widespread illegal misuse of federal funds. by.grantees. Legal service funds have been used in many political cam- paigns in recent years, various reports have disclosed. Money to provide legal aid for the poor w a s used in California, for instance, to help defeat a referendum to index the state income tax, in Missouri to fund the publi- cation of a lobbying handbook and an alternative budget proposal for "People's Lobbyists," Massachusetts for a political g u idebook that included tips on "how to use the media in a legislative campaign." The Senate Appropriations Committee version of the funding bill would not merely block effective restrictions on such activities, but it would make it very difficult for LSC n a tional staff even to uncover such misuses. of money. The bill strips away funds for travel by headquarters staff, making oversight and evaluation of the $300 million program extremely difficult, and it caps the funds available for program administration, f urther weakening the ability of staff to monitor illegal political acti- vity by grantees. The Senate Committee version would also halt promising experiments by.the LSC national staff to improve legal services to the poor by encour- aging private attorney s to bid for LSC work--and thereby compete with legal services lawyers. These private'alternatives to LSC grantees-have


b een found, in many instances, to provide a superior service at lower cost, thus enabling more low-income people to be served. This alternative has proven to be very popular, with private legal clients in approximately 20 cities scheduled to deliver legal assistance this year. The Corporation has received requests from 37 cities, includii@g Atlanta and Buffalo, for the experiment to b e extended to their areas in FY 1985. The Senate Com- mittee language would block this experimentation, effectively giving the LSC attorneys a m.onopoly. By providing line-item expenditures--unusual in an appropriations bill--the measure also would lock in funding for support centers and regional training centers, despite longstanding questions regarding their usefulness. Moreover, it would tie expenditures for local programs to 1970 census data on poverty, despite significant shifts in population recorded i n the 1980 census. Again, the effect is to favor existing gran- tees rather than the citizens the Corporation was established to help. If the Senate Committee language, authored by Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), is accepted by the full Senate, it is unlike l y t@at it will be modified significantly in the House-Senate conference, since the House leadership has opposed Reagan Administration attempts to force legal services lawyers to concentrate their efforts on providing legal aid to the poor--instead. of pol i tical campaigning. Rather than trying to hamstring the oversight activities of the LSC headqu@rters staff, and blocking innovative experiments to provide more assistance, the Senate should pay close attention to the rampant abuses uncovered by the GAO, and those disclosed in hearings held before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, chaired by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The app@opriations measure would help shield these irregularities from public view, encourage the misuse of lega l aid money for political purposes, and restrict Attempts by LSC staff to scrutinize the use of public money by grantees. Instead, the Senate should move swiftly to address the question of confirmation of the full slate of nomi- nees to the LSC Board, whic h was voted out of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee in May, so that the Board can examine the activities of LSC grantees in detail. Intruding into the day-to-day-working of the LSC, as the appropriations bill would enable Congress to do, woul d serve neither the poor seeking legal aid nor the American taxpayer.

Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D. Director of Domestic Policy Studies

For further information:

General Accounting Office, Testimony before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, April 11, 1984. General Accounting Office, Letter to Senate Orrin Hatch, September 19, 1981, (B-210338/B-202116). Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Oversight of the Legal Services Corporation, Staf f Report, 1983. "Legal Services Manuals Press Political Advocacy," The Washington Times, July 21, 1983. "A Little Larceny in Legal Services?" The Wall Street Journal, August 19, 1983.



Stuart M.