Out-Foxxing Special Interests
By Isaac MacMillen
“To compel a person to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” --Thomas Jefferson
Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has come under heavy left-wing fire for her attempts to keep ACORN and others from using taxpayer money for political purposes. Her opponents trot out the old bromide that she is trying to restrict the free speech of non-profits. A quick look at the situation, however, reveals otherwise.
House Resolution 1388, the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act” (more commonly called the “GIVE Act”), was designed to help President Obama fulfill his campaign pledge to multiply the number of volunteers, at taxpayer expense. But when the House voted last week to expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 (at a cost of billions of additional tax dollars), they also passed the Foxx amendment, limiting the ability for groups receiving federal funds to engage in lobbying activities. The amendment would also preclude certain political front groups from even receiving government funds. And that is good news for the American taxpayer.
Specifically, amendment 49 (full text here) would prohibit any organization in “an approved national service position” from engaging in lobbying, advocacy, endorsements, religious activities, or helping other groups that perform the aforementioned functions, to include sharing the same office space. It also makes lobbying groups, for-profit corporations, and organizations convicted of vote-fraud ineligible to take any government “service” funds.
All of which, of course, sounds perfectly logical to the average taxpayer. Though not, of course, to ACORN and its fellow radical leftists, who have become past masters at gorging themselves at the taxpayer trough.
Speaking on the floor of the House, Rep. Foxx affirmed the role that volunteering plays in the country, but noted that “the Federal Government should not be paying individuals to volunteer their time at locations that are prohibited from receiving taxpayer dollars, especially when Americans are already facing budget constraints from all the demands they face.”
Her amendment is timely. And it is little wonder that it was supported by a large margin. According to Congressional minutes, the amendment, which was attached to a motion to recommit, passed 318-105 (with 8 not voting). After all—who would want to be caught voting against such an amendment, other than those deep in the pockets of the special interests?
The truth is, allowing a lobbyist organization to receive government funds for “volunteerism” only invites corruption, as the group can then lobby the government for more funds (for itself), thus feeding off the taxpayers' dime. In fact, however, the government should not be spending money on volunteerism to begin with—nowhere does the Constitution give the federal government that authority. But still and all, the amendment prevents a bad bill from being worse.
Representative Foxx, in an exclusive interview with ALG News, stated exactly that. She said that she “had overall opposition to the bill, but there are ways that we sometimes can make a bad bill a little better.” She delved further into the reasoning behind the bill itself, stating that “the real intent of the GIVE Act, I think, is to get people dependent on the federal government.”
Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (which is funded exclusively by private donations), called Rep. Foxx a “hero,” noting that, “without Foxx's amendment, [the bill] would pour billions of dollars into the pockets of left-wing political operatives.”
With the amendment's passage in the House, the first hurdle is over. The challenge now will be to protect this amendment from special-interest friends in the Senate as well as in conference committee hearings.
In the Senate, in fact, the assault has already begun. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has propsed language surprisingly similar to that of Rep. Foxx—except that it cleverly removes the ban on lobbying or for-profit organizations from taking the funds. Instead it says that organizations cannot use the “national service position” for lobbying. This is a subtle distinction—but a vital one.
Under Rep. Foxx's amendment, organizations simply cannot receive tax funds if they fall under, among others, one of the following categories:
• Political Party
• Labor organization
And the organizations that are eligible may not use the funds to engage in the following highly political activities:
• Endorsing or opposing legislation
• Sponsoring events that oppose or endorse legislation
• Petitioning for political causes
• Staging protests, boycotts, or strikes
• Engaging in or interfering with union organizing
Reading the list, one is left nodding his or her head, and simply saying, “Well, of course.” Unless that one, it turns out, happens to be Sen. Barbara Mikulski, her fellow Senate Democrats or ACORN, and its cronies.
So, Ms. Mikulski, in what may be a new world's record in transparent duplicity, substituted her own amendment for the Foxx Amendment. Senator Mikulski removed the prohibitions on lobbyists, political parties, union organizations, and for-profits from accepting funding. Which means that, under the Mikulski Amendment, ACORN (et. al.) may have all of the taxpayer funds they wish – as long as they cross their hearts and promise that none of those exact funds will be used for any of the activities prohibited above.
Right, and if you believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona I can get you a great price on—but you must act now!
For those who are sane, there are two obvious problems with Ms. Mikulski's funambulistic formula: (1) ACORN, along with most left-wing organizations, lies (which is why it has been indicted in more states than John Dillinger), and (2) money is fungible, which means Ms. Mikulski's entire premise is as insulting as it is absurd.
Under the Mikulski amendment, liberal groups such as ACORN could employ some financial sleight-of-hand to take the government funds and use them for a prohibited purpose. By simply tasking the volunteer to cover admin or non-prohibited tasks, the organization then has more cash freed up for the prohibited activities. Essentially, the government money would be going to fund those prohibited activities, completely gutting the amendment of its intended effect—taxpayer protection.
As Rep. Foxx told ALG News, “I introduced the amendment to change the 'GIVE Act' because it was allowing activities that I did not believe the American people want to have funded by the federal government.”
Clearly, Congress is already wasting enough taxpayer dollars. If her amendment is kept in place, Representative Foxx will stop them from wasting even more. But if the Mikulski amendment is adopted, then government-funded “volunteers” will be free to work for a myriad of organizations that have no business using taxpayer dollars.
Taxpayers would once again be forced to pay the piper to a tune they didn't call—and don't even care to hear. And that is, in Mr. Jefferson's words, “sinful and tyrannical.”
Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau.