The Billion-Dollar Youth Worker

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The crown prince of congressional funding for youth services is moving on. Robbie Callaway, senior vice president of government relations at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), is departing after 23 years on the job.

When Callaway took the assignment in 1983, the job description was to represent the Boys’ Clubs of America (as it was then called), with a heavy emphasis on grip ’n grin functions and getting the boss into the right meetings in the White House and on Capitol Hill. In Callaway’s first year on the job, the group’s federal funding amounted to $55,000 – about what the Erie, Pa., Boys & Girls Club received in its own earmark in 2005.

Callaway reinvented the job just in time to cash in on the growing penchant of Congress to earmark favored groups, partly as a reaction to domestic budget cuts during the Reagan administration. In 1992, BGCA won an earmark of $2.5 million in the Justice Department budget. Thirteen years later, BGCA has a line-item appropriation of $85 million.

“Don’t call it an earmark,” Callaway says. OK, but the fiscal 2005 budget lists 24 other items totaling $5.13 million for BGCA and its various affiliates, from Lowell, Mass., to Nanakuli, Hawaii. The total of more than $90 million in federal funds is about 7.5 percent of BGCA’s aggregate fiscal 2005 income of $1.19 billion.

Callaway’s 32-year career in youth work began humbly enough, working in a group home for delinquent boys in Washington’s Maryland suburbs. Hired as a juvenile justice advocate at the now-defunct National Youth Work Alliance, he rose in 1981 to be executive director of that coalition of community-based youth-serving agencies.

Callaway is known throughout BGCA’s 1,200 administrative units as the Washington money man, and even his harshest critics concede that he delivered. Reacting to his departure, Don Mathis of the Harford County Boys & Girls Club, located north of Baltimore, says, “I’m weeping as we speak.”

“He made a huge difference,” BGCA President Roxanne Spillett says of Callaway. Callaway’s haul over those 23 years, according the BGCA, is an estimated $1 billion – yes, billion.

Now Callaway will take that golden touch to what Spillett writes is “another passionate challenge to pursue – a cure for cancer.” He’ll join Technology Investors Inc. as CEO. The for-profit enterprise is controlled by Hank Asher, a Naples, Fla., tech wiz, investor and philanthropist who heads the JARI Research Foundation. Asher serves with Callaway on the board of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Center on Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Callaway is the immediate past chairman of the 46-member board, a position now held by former Sen. Dennis De Concini (D-Ariz.).

Asher’s business acumen has made him a wealthy man, with a keen interest in fighting cancer. Callaway will head the nonscientific side of the enterprise, while presumably bettering his BGCA salary, which was $365,042 in 2004.

Mathis, former executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition and no stranger to the ways of Washing-
ton, says the steady growth of the BGCA over the past quarter-century “is a direct result of Robbie’s leadership.”

Callaway, and the sheer size of BGCA’s congressional largess, do not escape criticism. Most of it is muted, because Callaway also provides some of what he calls “the juice” on behalf of NCMEC and other youth-serving agencies. “I help anyone who calls,”

Callaway says. You know you’re in the Big Leagues when you’re helping future Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr. score more than $3 million in earmarks for kids’ baseball in fiscal 2005.

But Callaway took earmark boosterism to new heights when he told The Chronicle of Philanthropy in July that “it makes sense to give members of Congress some say in the selection process for awarding federal dollars, since they are in a better position than a national review panel … to identify the groups most able” to serve youth.

In a letter to the editor, reader Steve Weiner, who served as chief of staff to former Rep. James Corman, D-Calif., was incredulous.

“The ever-growing practice of ‘earmarks’ of federal funds to specific nonprofit organizations by members of Congress is nothing less than an insidious form of corruption,” he wrote. “I find it especially despicable that supposedly high-minded organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America … proudly defend these scams just as long as they have their place at the feeding trough. …

“Robbie Callaway of the Boys & Girls Clubs has the gall to assert that individual members of Congress are just as qualified as federal civil servants, who work under published rules in open competitive grant processes, to judge the merit of a specific program.”

That’s not how Spillett sees it. She says BGCA’s federal funding “is at risk every year,” and that BGCA’s success on Capitol Hill is “the direct result of the great work we do on the ground in 3,700 locations.”

Until Congress wraps up the fiscal 2006 budget, sometime over the next few months, Callaway will help mind the vault. His deputy in Washington for the past decade, Steve Salem, will stay on, and is well-versed in the BGCA formula for success.

Still, Callaway will be one extraordinarily difficult act to follow – not to mention a great loss to youth work.

Contact: BGCA (404) 487-5700,; BGCA’s Office of Government Relations (301) 251-6676.

Influence Huffing

It’s high time to wonder: Just where do those federal corporate tax breaks wind up, other than in the pockets of wealthy Americans and foreigners?

One sector that has benefited tremendously from income and corporate tax cuts since 2001 is the $516 billion-a-year chemical industry, along with its top executives. One of its trade groups is the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), a 501(c)(6) nonprofit. The association lobbies for corporate tax breaks and watering down environmental laws and regulations that fetter this necessarily (and notoriously) toxic industry. CSPA members include ConAgra Foods, Unilever and E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co.

Having strewn toxic waste from sea to shining sea, the industry has a major image problem with consumers, who are increasingly leery of various household products. And no household products are more frequently used improperly by kids than chemical-based items such as benzene (found in gasoline) Freon (in aerosol propellants) and butane and propane (in lighter fluid and spray paint.)

Inhalants are the orphans of the drug abuse prevention field, in part because the products are legal and often available over the counter. While uncountable treasure is pumped into the endless War on Drugs, the inhalant abuse issue runs on fumes.
The only group with any staying power in the struggle to educate youth, parents and youth workers about inhalant abuse danger is the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. It has been run since 1990, often as a labor of love, by Executive Director Harvey Weiss. It survives on occasional grants from the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Unilever and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The group’s budget, says Weiss, is “too embarrassing to mention.” What Weiss sorely lacks is the cash to participate in Washington’s increasingly pay-to-play funding environment.

The Consumer Specialty Products Association may not know much about youth work or drug abuse prevention, but it knows a lot about the winning formula on Capitol Hill. In 2000, CSPA set up a captive nonprofit, the Alliance for Consumer Education (ACE), “to promote responsible and beneficial use of products to ensure a safer, healthier, and cleaner environment.”

With about 26 percent of sixth- to eighth-graders reporting that they’ve tried getting high with the use of some 1,400 household products, who can object to that? Each year, according to Weiss, an estimated 100 to 125 youth die from inhalant abuse.

The executive director of ACE is Cindi Bookout, who served as press secretary to former Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) – who is now the state’s governor and ACE’s first honorary chairman. ACE does important work, and by all accounts does it reasonably well.

ACE’s fancy boxful of resources includes posters, brochures, a facilitator’s guide and a DVD. Each kit, Bookout says, costs from $12 to $14 for post-editorial production, with some 8,000 kits distributed, most through state affiliates of the American School Counselor Association. The association’s executive director, Kwok-Sze Richard Wong, serves on ACE’s board of trustees, along with Heather Paul of SOS Children’s Villages-USA, and a dozen chemical industry executives. Most kits are sent unsolicited to school counselors – a dubious distribution method, with no way of ensuring that the counselors even open the box.

In 2002, almost $400,000 of ACE’s budget came from the household products industry, as it should. But ACE hasn’t exactly aced the art of private fundraising. In October 2002, the group threw an “annual fundraiser” on the U.S.S. Sequoia, the former presidential yacht, which is rented out at a rate of $5,000 for four hours. For an additional $1,000, ACE’s 40 guests enjoyed an open bar; an unknown amount was spent for caterers. ACE’s federal tax return for 2002 says the event cost $12,081, not counting staff time. A nice, tax-exempt time on the Potomac River was had by all, at a cost of about $300 per person. The net for the event was $7,661 – a few weeks of Bookout’s annual compensation, which now stands at $102,002.

The story could end there, if CSPA’s corporate members ponied up all the money to fund ACE, or at least competed for federal funds through a competitive process. But that’s so 20th century. Better to hire lobbyists, ingratiate yourself with members of Congress – Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) is the honorary chairman – and win an earmark, letting the taxpayers pick up as much of the tab as possible. So CSPA/ACE (the two nonprofit corporations share one office) hired two companies that work exclusively as Capitol Hill rainmakers: Cornerstone Government Affairs and Washington Strategies LLC.

ACE hired Cornerstone Government Affairs in 2002 for the purpose of gaining a congressional earmark. The influence-peddling group also works for such nonprofits as Tempe, Ariz.-based Kids Voting USA ($100,000-plus in fees over 21û2 years), the Chicago-based Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network ($160,000-plus over 21û2 years) and the Association of Maternal Child Health Programs ($100,000-plus over 31û2 years).

For some Cornerstone clients, the fees have been a sound investment in real politik. Kids Voting has received almost $1.7 million from Congress since 2001. Uhlich’s yield has been $1.1 million since 2004 — $300,000 of it shared with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The Association of Child and Maternal Health, however, has not won an earmark since at least 2001.

At Cornerstone, no paying customer is too big a turkey to turn away, and that includes the National Wild Turkey Federation, which paid $240,000 in fees over 21û2 years.

But for ACE, at least, Cornerstone itself proved to be a turkey. After spending at least $30,000 on Cornerstone, ACE had an empty tank. Cornerstone was dumped, Bookout says, for lack of “results.”

ACE then hired Washington Strategies. That shop’s clients have included the Philadelphia-based American Theater Arts for Youth. The theater group has paid Washington Strategies more than $280,000 since 2001 to land earmarks totaling more than $1.8 million, with 15.5 percent of the take going to the lobbying firm.

ACE paid the firm $40,000 over an 18-month period ending in June 2005. In the fiscal 2005 federal budget, ACE was given a $100,000 earmark from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, courtesy of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ACE will use the taxpayer money to do what it says it was doing anyway – give away its inhalant abuse kits. Now some 8,000 kits will be sent to all the school counselors in Pennsylvania.

ACE, Bookout says, works only through schools. She seemed unaware of the guidance role played by youth-serving agencies.
So for an investment of at least $70,000 (and counting) in lobbyist fees, ACE has received $100,000 from taxpayers. Add a modest amount of time spent by ACE’s two-person staff, and the effort is a wash. Essentially, the transaction is a $100,000 transfer from the taxpayers to hired lobbyists.

At an Oct. 27 press conference in Ardmore, Pa., ACE proudly announced it was providing its kits “free of charge” to the state’s public school districts. This is the kind of arrangement that organizations increasingly try to pass off as a public-private partnership on behalf of kids. Among those ACE “Partner Organizations” are America’s Promise – the Alliance for Youth, and the

National SAFE Kids Campaign, once run by Paul of SOS Children’s Village.

Did someone mention that the federal budget deficit totaled $317 billion last fiscal year? It makes you wonder: Other than cash, what are they inhaling up on Capitol Hill?

Contact: Alliance for Consumer Education (202) 862-3902,; National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (800) 269-4237,