June 29, 1995

June 29, 1995 | Commentary on Political Thought

ED062995d: Washington's Spending on Special Interest Groups

For all of Washington's new-found "cost consciousness," you'd be amazed how easy it is for special-interest groups to find some taxpayer-funded "money faucet" -- turned on by the last Congress -- that hasn't been turned off yet. You just have to know where to look for them.

And the threat of having your funding cut off or reduced can really motivate you to look.

Earlier this year, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich eliminated Congress' 28 special-interest caucuses -- the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Textile Caucus, Steel Caucus, Arts Caucus, etc. -- many of the groups began poking around for other ways to get at your money. And many struck paydirt.

Take, for example, the Black Caucus, which has its own foundation, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF). How does it plan to continue its activities now that it can no longer do so with your money?

With your money. The Black Caucus Foundation currently is seeking $900,000 in private donations to match a $900,000 grant it's expecting from the U.S. Commerce Department. The money allegedly will be used to link members of the Black Caucus to "the 5000+ African-American city, state and county legislators and officials, and African-American public policy organizations, to provide information produced by the CBCF, other policy organizations, and pertinent information produced on Capitol Hill that impacts the delivery of service at the local government level."

That's Washingtonese for saying that "government money will be channeled through the CBCF in order to link members of the Black Caucus with their political constituency," to quote my friend John P. Walters in a report by his New Citizenship Project. How does CBCF plan to establish this link? Why, through the Internet. That's where Commerce comes in.

The Commerce Department runs a program called the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP), as part of Vice President Al Gore's attempt to have government micro-manage the "information superhighway." One of the Clinton administration's main goals in establishing TIIAP was to develop a telecommunications component for the Clinton health-care plan. That plan didn't pan out, but this didn't stop the government from giving out $24.4 million in TIIAP grants in 1994. Nor did it stop the 103rd Congress from appropriating $64 million for TIIAP for 1995, or the administration from requesting $99.9 million for 1996.

Somebody left the money faucet running. This "cyberpork" program has yet to be targeted for extinction by the GOP Congress. And the special interests are rushing in to lap up the runoff. This is just one example, there are many others.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against there being a Congressional Black Caucus, or any other kind of special-interest caucus. I just question whether taxpayers should have to pay for them.

And just so you know I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is, bear in mind that early in my Washington career I served as staff director for the House Republican Study Committee. We did a lot of good work, and the committee's efforts over the years were instrumental in providing intellectual fodder for the conservative takeover of Congress last November.

With my blessing, and in all fairness, Speaker Gingrich and the new Congress cut off funding for the Study Committee -- along with the 27 other special-interest caucuses -- and it was disbanded.

Do you think that one went looking for government handouts?

# # #

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Related Issues: Political Thought