September 21, 1995
Washington lobbyists may be in your state -- and they are trying to scare you.
They believe that once you hear what the House of Representatives is up to -- it voted recently to end welfare for lobbyists -- you'll be as scared as they are.
If the proposed reform legislation passes, these "beltway bandits" no longer will be able to use government grants -- your hard-earned tax dollars -- to subsidize their political advocacy. Never mind that they didn't ask you whether you agree with their causes or not. They just want your tax dollars. And they won't rest until they are sure they can continue to feed at the public trough.
Unknown to most Americans, these lobbyists have relied on 40 years of political patronage in Congress to obtain billions of taxpayer dollars that routinely are used to lobby for even more government money. It works like this: A non-profit advocacy group searches through the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance -- a guide to more than $40 billion in annual government giveaways -- to find some program related to its activities. The organization then applies to federal bureaucrats in Washington for a "grant" and receives a fat check from the U.S. Treasury.
Unfortunately, each federal dollar these advocacy groups receive from Washington frees up other money, which can then be spent on lobbying and other political activities you may or may not agree with. In addition, federal grantees are allowed to "skim" a certain percentage of each grant to apply toward "overhead" or "administrative" expenses. This percentage can range anywhere from 10 to 30 percent or more.
A perfect example is the National Council of Senior Citizens (NCSC). Although this organization has actively lobbied Congress against a balanced-budget amendment and other policies, and operates a political action committee that contributes thousands of dollars each year to political candidates, NCSC is 96 percent taxpayer funded. According to its 1993 IRS filing, $72,910,930 of $75,956,825 in revenue came from the government. The bulk of this money came from one of the giveaways in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance called the "Senior Community Service Employment Program."
Did the NCSC ever ask you whether you wanted a balanced budget or if you support their slate of political candidates? It didn't ask us either. But it didn't hesitate to take our money -- and yours.
Of course, your local non-profit couldn't get money from this program. The NCSC is one of only nine national groups allowed to receive the $320 million available from this grant. Why? Because they have the clout and the lobbyists -- bought, in large part, with your money.
Needless to say, these folks aren't going to take Congress's effort to end such practices lying down. One of their "watchdog" groups, OMB Watch, has been sent out to scare small local non-profits. They want these local groups to call Washington and express concern that the proposed reforms will prevent them from pursuing their activities. In fact, local non-profits that take money from the government usually spend the money wisely -- by directly helping people, not by paying high-priced lobbyists in Washington.
Believe it or not, OMB Watch is now financing a 27 state "road show" to stir up local non-profits. Given the number of states being visited, the costs are likely to be substantial.
Who is financing this little circus? After a little digging, we found out that OMB Watch is linked to an organization called the Unison Institute, which receives a taxpayer subsidy. In fact, the two organizations jointly run the "Right-to-Know" computer network (RTK Net) on the Internet, which is being used as a primary tool for the campaign to protect welfare for lobbyists. The credits on RTK Net proudly proclaim that it is paid for by "multiple philanthropic and government agencies," including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In other words, the same shell game these groups use to obtain your tax dollars for lobbying is being used to preserve the shell game itself!
So, when the "road show" arrives in your town, and you hear horror stories about babies crying and old folks dying because of what the new meanies in Congress want to do to non-profit organizations that lobby, don't be fooled.
Just ask if the people making the claims receive any government funding. Then ask why they didn't check with you before they used your money to lobby for their cause.
Note: Marshall Wittmann is former Senior Fellow in Congressional Affairs and Charles P. Griffin is former Deputy House Liaison at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C. Heritage receives no federal funds and does no lobbying.
Return to The Heritage Foundation's Commentary section.