August 16, 1995

August 16, 1995 | Commentary on Taxes

ED081695: Guess Who's Getting Your Tax Dollars?

So many Americans were fed up with business as usual in Washington that the leadership of Congress changed hands last November. The new leadership made specific promises to the American people in the Contract with America.

At least one government employee union -- the one representing state and local employees -- has labeled the Contract "evil" and lobbied against it in Congress earlier this year. Guess who paid for the union's lobbying? You did.

Washington gave the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) nearly $150,000 last year -- $150,000 that you and other taxpayers sent to Washington for the urgent needs of the nation.

You also sent Washington more than $250,000 that was given to the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) so it could tell Congress that "more children will be killed, more children will be raped" if the Contract with America becomes law.

The government's generosity with your money goes way beyond groups fighting the Contract with America. For example, $250,000 of your money was given to Families USA, one of the chief backers of the Clinton administration's failed health-care "reform" proposal last year.

Did anybody from AFSCME, CWLA or Families USA thank you for your generosity? I doubt it, since the underwriting of advocacy groups is one of Washington's dirty little secrets. The government gives your money to political and ideological groups whether you agree with them or not.

And we're not talking about just a few dollars. American taxpayers provided more than $39 billion to groups championing one cause or another between June 1993 and July 1994, according to a recent Heritage Foundation study. And nobody asked you or any other taxpayer if you want to contribute to any of these causes.

The reigning champions of this game are the National Council of Senior Citizens, which got $71 million (out of a total budget of about $75 million), and the American Association of Retired Persons, which received $73 million. Other organizations sharing in this bonanza included the AFL-CIO ($2 million), the Environmental Defense Fund ($515,000), the Consumer Federation of America ($610,000), the World Wildlife Fund ($2.6 million), and the League of Women Voters ($611,000).

Many of these groups are among the most active and visible advocates of more federal spending, higher federal taxes and increased regulation. Their representatives often testify before Congress, routinely provide favorable "public comment" to federal agencies on the latest new regulations, and are quoted regularly as "experts" in the news media.

To be sure, groups at all points of the political spectrum receive federal money. But by far the majority line up on the "tax and spend" side of things.

The fact is that during the past 40 years, Congress has created a vast patronage network of organizations that enjoy tax-exempt status, receive billions in federal handouts each year and aggressively lobby on Capitol Hill for bigger government and higher taxes.

In the old days, it was the Boss Tweeds of the big-city political machines handing out generous political favors. Today, Tweed is the unelected federal bureaucrat handing out billions of dollars worth of federal grants to those who want to maintain the status quo in Washington.

It's time to get the advocacy groups' hands out of your wallet. Thomas Jefferson put this issue well when he said: "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."

If special interests want your money, they should call and ask you for it. They shouldn't be allowed to take it out of your taxes.

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

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