August 22, 1996

August 22, 1996 | Commentary on Political Thought

ED082296b: Truth in Testimony

Why is it that only liberals care about children and the needy, while conservatives seem more concerned about the well-being of defense contractors?

I ask this loaded question because it says a lot about the advocacy game as it is now played across America.

While many groups and organizations do essential, valuable work in communities across the nation -- often without credit or notice -- many national "charity" groups have their hands in the pockets of taxpayers. But this is okay because they "care."

Consider the recent "Stand for Children" rally in Washington, organized by the Children's Defense Fund and led by Marian Wright Edelman, a good friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton and a leading proponent of the spend-more school of social welfare.

The CDF's idea was flawless. By using the theme "Stand for Children," CDF made it almost impossible for anyone to question its agenda: more government spending. To do so would appear, "against children." By dubbing this approach "non-partisan," the stage was set for a liberal welfare establishment-media lovefest, with conservatives as the main course.

But conservatives didn't roll over and accept defeat. Instead we showed that the liberals' motives are not always as pure as they would have us believe. In the case of the "Stand for Children" rally, many of the organizations pushing the rally are on the public take -- receiving a grand total of at least $392 million in taxpayer funding in fiscal year 1994.

No wonder these groups argue so passionately about the need for greater federal funding and are so vicious in attacking anyone who might question it.

In fact, these are the very same groups that line up to testify whenever Congress holds hearings on whether welfare spending should be cut.

If that sounds like a conflict of interest, that's because it is.

What makes the scam possible is that these groups are not required to reveal the fact that they are feasting at the public trough.

An organization might be getting 90 percent of its money directly from the federal government, and it can still go before Congress -- and the TV cameras -- and argue for more money for this program or that, without ever revealing that it is a recipient of federal funds. No wonder the welfare states keeps expanding.

There's no need for a new law, no need for the president to sign legislation to rectify this situation. All the Senate and House of Representatives have to do is change their own rules so that all advocates before Congress must state how much money they receive from the government.

Under such a "Truth in Testimony" rule, representatives of, say, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) appearing before House and Senate committees would be required to disclose that their organization received $76 million from the federal government in 1993. This just might tend to shed a new light on AARP's heart-rending requests for more spending on programs for the elderly.

Similarly, union officials testifying on behalf of federal job training programs would have to reveal that their unions receive millions of dollars each year to administer these very programs.

Maybe some day the media might even catch on and report on the vested interests of many who regale Congress with pitiful tales of welfare woe.

Until then, taxpayers should demand that lawmakers ask tax-funded "charities" two simple questions: "What's in it for you?" and "How much is it going to cost the taxpayers?" These are two questions Congress and the media have ignored, at least so far.

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
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