Our Peptic Congress

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There seems to be a sentiment in the country, at least among the 57,355,978 Americans who voted for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) last month, that President George W. Bush somehow botched things up during his first term. Let’s put that canard to rest right now.

Was it the president who took the federal budget from a $236 billion surplus in 2000 to a mind-boggling $2.5 trillion in cumulative deficits during his first term? True, the president hasn’t vetoed a single bill passed by Congress. But at least in my unabridged copy of the U.S. Constitution, it says that Congress alone controls taxing and spending.

That thought leads to the recent goings-on of the outgoing and unlamented 108th Congress. While the nation and the press were fixated on the race for the White House, the Congress – protected by 1,600 cops with enough security gadgetry to win the admiration of Uncle Joe Stalin – was on its annual gluttonous engorgement. Virtually all spending related to youth service was tucked into the 3,016-page, 14-pound “omnibus” bill used by Congress to make up for a year spent, as usual, raising campaign money from special interest groups and the rich. Legislating this way is like having 535 students turn in a year’s worth of homework on the day that final report cards are issued.

Congress is supposed to finish its appropriations work before the federal fiscal year begins on October 1st. The 108th’s first session didn’t have a budget until January 23, 2004. So grade the 108th’s second session as “shows improvement” in punctuality.

Little improvement is in evidence when it comes to youth policy. Of course, the United States has no coherent national youth policy as other developed nations understand the term. We have only Congress’ Wheel of Fortune spending policy. And spending is what Congress does best. It found $168 million for abstinence-only sex ed. But it couldn’t find a way to let states keep $1.1 billion in unspent funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a move that will mean no health coverage for 200,000 children of low wage parents. And it did find a way to keep $50 million in unspent funds for federal prison construction.

In February, Youth Today will publish its annual, comprehensive list of congressional earmark winners, which was released in late November by Congress. But here are some highlights – some good, some bad, some downright ugly – taken from the Department of Justice’s $20.6 billion budget for fiscal 2005, supplemented with information from organizations’ federal tax returns:

• Last year the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s mega-earmark (technically a line item) was $79.1 million. This year it’s up to $85 million, although the White House requested only $60 million. The Atlanta-based group and its affiliates routinely get additional earmarks from the government. The group serves mostly pre-teens, through about 3,400 sites. Its president, Roxanne Spillett, earned $478,373 in 2003.

• The New-York-based I Have a Dream Foundation received a $100,000 earmark. That’s an improvement over no pork in 2004, but far from the $4 million it hauled in from 2001 through 2003. The 2005 money is less than the nonprofit paid lobbying firm Piper Rudnick for “legal services” in 2002 – a year in which the federal government’s contribution essentially picked up 69 percent of the national office’s tab. CEO Marina Winton made $136,750 in 2002, which is more than the $103,500 in dues paid to the national office that year by I Have a Dream’s wealthy sponsors in 66 cities.

• Preaching the glories of the free enterprise system since 1919 is the Colorado Springs-based Junior Achievement (JA), where CEO David Chernow made $456,080 in JA’s 2002 tax year. JA’s $4 million earmark comes from the Justice Department’s $102.2 million set-aside to combat delinquency. Must be the four percent solution to delinquency prevention.

Frankly, JA could use the no-compete money, since this entrepreneurship thing can be risky. In 2002, JA spent just under $1 million dollars on travel. Among the results? A $740,946 loss for its special events, plus $69,255 in bad debt. Despite JA having the perfect profile for corporate welfare, Congress cut last year’s $5 million earmark by a million. Go figure.

• There are some programmatic approaches that anyone with a cursory knowledge of youth development wouldn’t fund on a dare. Not only is DARE America, based in Los Angeles, back for another $1.7 million, but DARE Alaska is in for $210,000 for “implementation [of] new DARE.” Make that the new, new, new DARE, now known as DARE P.L.U.S. After flunking every evaluation this side of the Aleutian Islands, DARE polishes its cops-in-the-classroom curriculum and declares past failures irrelevant. Apparently, Congress and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (which put up $13.6 million for the newest new DARE) thinks it deserves another chance. Where’s California’s three strikes and you’re out law when you need it?

DARE President Glenn Levant, a retired Los Angeles deputy police chief, was paid $276,000 in 2002. That year the group, which claims to be 98 percent privately funded, took in $2,450,481 in licensee royalties for its t-shirts and bumper stickers. Government, says its tax returns, contributed $2.8 million to DARE, or about 25 percent of DARE America’s $10.5 million in income – about 10 times DARE’s public claims. Must be smokin’ something back in the finance department.

• Now here are some interesting bedfellows: Philadelphia’s Public/Private Ventures, where CEO Gary Walker earned $366,964 last fiscal year, and the Washington-based National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (NCNE), led by conservative maverick Bob Woodson, who earned $244,871 in 2003. They’ll share a $2 million earmark, with the NCNE getting $750,000. P/PV will continue to evaluate (not a word you find very often in congressional earmarks) NCNE’s Violence Free Zone project.

Last summer, P/PV landed a $10 million grant from the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, with 85 percent of it passed through to faith-based programs.

NCNE just received $1 million from ChevronTexaco Corp. to increase the number of school counselors and to fund after-school activities. Last year, NCNE received $498,403 from HHS’s $48 million Compassionate Capital Fund, a key component of the White House Faith-Based Initiative. Altogether, NCNE’s income grew from $2.7 million in 2000 to $4.8 million in 2003. By the time the Bush administration ends in 2009, NCNE could have a budget equal to another favorite of conservatives in Congress, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

• In another marriage made in pork heaven, the National Fatherhood Initiative’s (NFI) congressional courtship paid off to the tune of $2,084,650. Founded in 1994 by David Blankenhorn, Don Eberly and Wade Horn (now assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the Gaithersburg, Md.-based group is now headed by Roland Warren, who earned $138,617 in 2002.

The Bush years have been kind to NFI. In 2000, Horn’s last year as president, NFI’s income was $1,409,900. Its 2002 income was up to $4,434,347, with 64 percent coming from government contributions.

Congress is fond of harping on the need for “evidence-based” programs. Here are some examples – from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) earmark list – which Congress deems so evidence-based that no grant proposals or evaluations are required:

• $3 million to the Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. • $1.5 million to the Florida-based Drug Free America Foundation.• $250,000 for Darkness to Light in South Carolina. • Two earmarks of $100,000 each to “No Workshops, No Jumpshots” in Indiana and Virginia. • $3 million for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation in Baltimore, Md. • $500,000 for the Daniel Webster Boy Scout Council in New Hampshire. • $350,000 to Women In Support of the Million Man March in Newark, N.J. • $3 million for the Hawaii Rural Youth Outreach Program. • And finally, my personal favorite in capturing the collective wisdom of Congress: $250,000 to Texas A&M University in Corpus

Christi for “programs decreasing behaviors in at-risk youth.” That could be a regime that combines more time playing Mortal Kombat with Thorazine.

No nonprofit better exemplifies Congress’ record of being Missing In Action when it comes to promoting positive youth development than its feeding of the voracious appetite of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), known to its cowed but numerous critics as “the National Center on Exploiting Missing Kids.” This has been another banner year for NCMEC, headquartered in Alexandria, Va., with offices in five other states. In theory, NCMEC is overseen by OJJDP. In reality NCMEC – with a staff of over 250 and total revenue in 2003 of $35,797,205 million – calls the shots.

Congress this year has been more open handed than ever with NCMEC and its various satellite operations. Last year, the federal Missing Children’s Program received $35,621,000. This year it received $46.9 million, a 32 percent increase. Of that, NCMEC gets $23.9 million off the top. Says Congress in the earmark documents, “The conferees commend the leadership of NCMEC.” Time for a raise for NCMEC Director Ernie Allen, who was paid $395,891 in 2003.

But wait, there’s more! NCMEC will get $7.1 million from the Department of Homeland Security’s Secret Service budget, including $2.1 million “for forensic support.” Because NCMEC doesn’t actually find missing kids (that grunt work is left to law enforcement and a gaggle of under-funded, overtaxed local groups), this might be a joint boondoggle that makes sense – a sort of Secret Service meets secret service.

Comic Relief

Judith Reisman, the controversial child abuse expert turned art expert, is back again – this time as a movie critic. In a campaign backed by Focus on the Family (run by James Dobson) the American Family Association (led by Donald Widlmon) and other conservative groups, Reisman is attacking the film “Kinsey,” starring Liam Neeson. It was produced by Fox Productions, part of arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which includes Fox News, home of “fair and balanced reporting.” In 1984, OJJDP made a $734,371 grant to pseudo-researcher Reisman to study the graphic and often misogynous and perverted comics published in Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler magazines. Reisman, a one-time singer-songwriter on TV’s Captain Kangaroo show, spent three years reading dirty comics and cartoons at American University. AU’s president at the time, Richard Berendzen, defended the grant (before getting busted for making obscene phone calls to baby-sitters) by invoking “academic freedom.” AU pocketed the overhead, but refused to publish the results after an outside reviewer found the report “meaningless” and commented, “I wondered what kind of a mind would consider the love scene from Romeo and Juliet to be child porn.”

That kind of mind that is again in the news, but now as a movie critic. In 1990, Reisman wrote and self-published Kinsey, Sex, and Fraud, claiming that the Indiana sociologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s “research involved illegal experimentation on several hundred children.” Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute issued a rebuttal, and Reisman sued. The suit was dismissed with prejudice as without merit. Her bizarre performance as a star witness for the prosecution in the 1990 Cincinnati obscenity jury trial of an art museum – for its exhibit of the photos of Robert Mapplethorpe – is credited with ensuring the acquittal of the defendants.

Still, her work is admired by anti-porn crusaders, including OJJDP administrator J. Robert Flores. Perhaps a sequel to her earlier three-volume report is in the works. Just the labor involved in reading all those dirty comics is worth a $100,000 congressional earmark.

Now Reisman has teamed with the California Protective Parents Association (CPPA), led by Karen Anderson. CPPA’s world view is through the prism of Mad Moms, representing woman who have lost custody disputes in family court, which it calls “a multi-billion dollar ‘industry’ ” staffed by people “whose livelihood depends on litigation.” These mothers scorned, says CPPA, should reject rulings against them, because the result will be “the willful sacrifice of a child to a life of rape and/or battery” at the hands of abusive fathers.