My name is John Q. Specialinterest. I am testifying
today on behalf of Americans for a Happy Tomorrow (AHT), which
represents senior citizens, environmentalists, school lunch
servers, and the dispossessed. In the last fiscal year, AHT
received $73 million from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL),
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA). I am here to protest the cruel and
heartless proposed budget cuts in the DOL, HHS, and
As Congress begins budget reconciliation hearings, it would be
enlightening if every witness's testimony included a "truth in
testimony" statement. This small but significant change in the way
Congress does business could shed a powerful light on the true
motivations and self-interest of organizations that claim to
represent the "public interest."
Each day, another organization expresses its outrage on Capitol
Hill over proposed reductions in government spending. But what
remains largely unknown to the taxpayer is that many of these
groups themselves benefit from federal largesse. Over the past
forty years, Congress has created a vast patronage network of
organizations which enjoy tax-preferred status, receive federal
funds, and engage in legislative or political activity. The days of
big-city political machines disbursing patronage may be coming to
an end, but the disbursement of financial dividends to political
friends is a prominent feature of the federal budget. While
claiming they are only "doing good," they are in fact "doing well"
at the taxpayer's expense. The taxpayers have a right to know.
On February 2, 1995, the Child Welfare League of America
testified before a House Ways and Means subcommittee about welfare
reform. This organization benefited from approximately $250,000 in
FY 1994 and ran an advertisement opposing the Contract with
America's welfare reform bill which claimed: "More children will be
killed. More children will be raped."
One month later, a subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee held a hearing on "forest health and
restoration." One of the panels was 50 percent federally subsidized
and included representatives of the United Brotherhood of
Carpenters and Joiners ($257,000 in federal funding in FY 1994) and
the National Audubon Society ($135,000, excluding state-based
Clearly, the right to petition government to redress grievances
is precious and should not be infringed. Individuals and
organizations using funds from the private sector should be
encouraged to engage in the legislative and political process
without fear of regulation. It is an entirely different matter to
employ the coercive power of the federal government to force
taxpayers to finance organizations which lobby Congress or
Truth in Testimony is Needed. Congress needs to know which
advocacy organizations are federally funded, particularly when they
are lobbying Congress. Witnesses who testify before a congressional
committee should be required to state in their written and oral
testimony how much federal funding they receive and how they use
it. In addition, the committee should request that each
organization provide an IRS Form 990 for the committee to keep on
file. The 990 is a public document each organization must file that
lists its sources of revenue, along with pertinent information on
the group's affiliations with other organizations.
The people's representatives have a right to know if the
testimony they are hearing is coming from someone who is feeding at
the public trough.
- Members of Congress submit annual financial disclosure
- Senior officers in the executive branch file regular reports on
- Lobbyists must register with the government and identify
themselves as such.
- Witnesses from federally funded groups are not required to
disclose this fact to Congress.
Many laws have been passed to combat possible financial
conflicts of interest by the political class. But until now the
focus has been in one direction: money going into the coffers of
politicians. What about private lobbying groups that receive
taxpayer dollars from the politicians? Admittedly, this represents
a very touchy subject for many special interests. Hundreds of
activist organizations receive millions upon millions of taxpayer
dollars each year -- and then turn around and use that money to
lobby Congress to send even more of this money their way.
For example, the AFL-CIO receives more than $10 million each
year and then promotes a television ad campaign to oppose
everything the new Congress is undertaking. The clear goal is to
stir up grassroots opposition from union members and others to
attack the reforms the new leaders of Capitol Hill are attempting
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the largest
lobbying organization in America, receives $86 million in taxpayer
funds each year. At the same time, the AARP lobbied Congress to
pass a big-government health care bill that the American people --
and many AARP members themselves -- firmly opposed.
Most federal programs, like student loans and funds for new
prisons, are specified in the federal budget. Each receives its own
"line item" that tells how much money it will be able to spend in
the coming year. The trouble is that a line item labeled "AFL-CIO"
or "AARP" does not exist. If it did, it would be a lightning rod
for criticism and would top most people's list of spending cuts. It
is time to acknowledge that the American people are fed up with
special interest lobbying and certainly would not stand for the
government's helping these groups to advance their particular
There is no justification for special interest lobbying groups'
receiving money from the American taxpayers, only to turn around
and spend it to lobby Congress for even more. Congress should
recognize the danger of this corrupt practice and expose federally
funded hypocrisy. Each committee should demand full disclosure of
its witnesses so the American public can see whether their tax
dollars are subsidizing calls for more of their money.