Rarely has a special interest group and its Capitol Hill supporters been hoisted higher on its own sanctimonious petard than the National Center on Missing & Exploited Children. NCMEC and its mindless booster club in the U.S. House of Representatives, the disappeared Congressional Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, have spent two decades whipping Americans into hysteria over child safety.
As anyone over age 8 knows by now, the co-chairman of the House caucus, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned from the House in September and swiftly vanished beyond the reach of even an ADVCO mailer to an unknown location in Florida. He left behind a trove of pathetic, juvenile and probably illegal electronic messages to several former Capitol Hill pages, the most explicit of which was not published by the mainstream media. Using the screen name Maf54, Foley wants to know from one underage boy: “Did you spank it this weekend yourself”. A few minutes later he messages, “well, I have aa [sic] totally stiff wood now” and goes on to urge the kid to “get a ruler and measure it for me”. Reply: “7 and 1û2”. Answers Foley, “beautiful… thats [sic] a great size”. Foley was even e-chatting like this in the House GOP cloakroom while waiting to vote in April 2003.
Across the Potomac, at NCMEC’s $16 million headquarters housing most of its 350 staff members, the Foley follies struck like a needle in an overinflated bag of hot gas. At first, CEO Ernie Allen posted a condolence message, calling Foley’s resignation “a great loss to Florida and the nation,” adding, “he will be missed.”
As co-chairman with Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) of the 10-year-old House Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, Foley eagerly did NCMEC’s bidding. The caucus agenda was and is (if it actually has a post-Foley existence) totally controlled by NCMEC. One veteran of the missing kids field on the outs with NCMEC notes bitterly that no one could even attend a House caucus meeting without NCMEC’s blessing. Allen says that charge is “absolutely untrue.”
Allen claims virtually no NCMEC involvement in the House caucus since its past co-chair, Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas), lost his House seat in the Texas redistricting scheme masterminded by ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Ironically, Lampson is favored to regain a House seat – DeLay’s – on Nov. 7.
Other than briefing the House caucus upon its request, Allen says he knows nothing about the caucus. How did Foley become co-chairman with Cramer? “I have no idea how co-chairs are chosen,” Allen tells Nose Knows.
Allen maintains, however, that “there is still a caucus” on missing kids.
If there is, it’s missing in inaction. Google can’t find the caucus or a list of its membership. Allen’s claim of NCMEC having no contact with the caucus (read: Foley) is questionable. But Archive.org says Lampson’s page on the missing kids caucus hasn’t been visited or updated since his re-election defeat two years ago.
When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, NCMEC was already a bloated group in search of a broader mission than promoting stranger danger. That year, it reported income of $20,288,914 on its federal income tax forms. By adding cyber-safety and human trafficking to its portfolio of satanic evils to be fought, NCMEC’s gross receipts grew to a staggering $47,834,274 in 2005.
By way of comparison, after 32 years of successful operation, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act had an appropriation for its basic centers program of $48.2 million in fiscal 2006. With those funds, the Family and Youth Services Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was able to make 343 grants to programs that operate 24/7 and serve an estimated 60,000 youth annually.
Allen’s pay from NCMEC totaled $334,752 in 2005 for a 28-hour workweek, as stated on the group’s tax forms. That left time for him to collect an additional $113,172 from a NCMEC subsidiary, the International Center on Missing and Exploited Children, for a grand total of $447,924.
NCMEC was founded in 1984 by former Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) and staffer Jay Howell, with funds from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice (then headed by Al Regnery, now publisher of The American Spectator). It won an initial following by claiming there were 50,000 abductions by strangers per year. By the time The Denver Post won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for a series (“The Truth About Missing Kids”) that exposed the fact that the nation’s child abduction numbers were a fraction of what was being claimed, NCMEC was ensconced as the key government-anointed player in the fractious missing kids field.
The FBI’s high-end estimate of the number of true stranger abduction cases per year is 110. Sadly, the chances of finding them aren’t great: A study by the Washington State attorney general’s office found that 75 percent of children abducted by strangers were murdered within three hours.
Allen took over in 1986. He, like his deputy, John Rabin (2005 salary: $289,800) are Louisville protégés of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is in line to head the Senate GOP caucus.
As the spreading scandal unfolds, it appears that at least one member of Congress, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), knew about Foley’s inappropriate fondness for male pages as far back as 2000. Certainly by a year ago, numerous GOP members and staffers were in the loop. None felt bound by Washington’s mandatory reporting, with “reasonable cause,” of suspected child abuse to the police or child protective services. So far, all of the male pages who have come forward are over 16, the city’s age of consent.
That’s thin consolation to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who, as titular head of the Page School, qualifies under Washington’s code as a “school official.” As Bush noted shortly after the scandal broke, Hastert “is a father, teacher, coach who cares about the children of this country.” Surely, a former wrestling coach knows the difference between “good touch, bad touch” and its modern companion, “good instant message, bad instant message.”
After much Internet sleuthing (or was it stalking?), a list of Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus members was located for 2004. Its roster consisted of 150 members of the House, including Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and retiring Reps. Kolbe and Tom Osbourne (R-Neb.), author of the recently enacted Tom Osbourne Federal Youth Coordination Act.
Today, the once-touted caucus is an orphan. Calls to the offices of its Republican and Democratic members turned up no one who would admit to attending a caucus meeting since 2004, with the exception of Cramer. Perhaps it could be renamed the Phantom Caucus on Caring About Kids.
A news release about the Foley revelations from Mike Petit of Vote Kids, labeled “Congressional Hypocrisy on Family Values,” notes that “under the guise of compassionate conservatism … child poverty has increased by 11 percent since 2001. The ranks of the uninsured have skyrocketed to 47 million, 9 million of them children. Foley and company dismissed the evidence” of a decline in childhood well-being.
Congress’ latest fling at protecting kids was the passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. After listing 17 cases of abductions and/or sex crimes (including one against a 31-year-old Texas woman) over a quarter-century to justify the law, Congress throws the book at every bad guy here and abroad, with one exception – itself.
Congressional provisions in the act include the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, the Megan Nicole Kanka and Alexandra Nicole Zapp Community Notification Program, the Jetseta Gage assured punishment for violent crimes against children, the Jimmy Ryce State civil commitment programs for sexually dangerous persons, the Jessica Lunsford Address Verification Grant Program, and Masha’s Law.
One victim not getting into the act is Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old Californian whose father, Mark Klaas, has become a critic of NCMEC and its ever-widening mission.
Getting top billing from NCMEC for the law’s passage was none other than former congressman Foley.
The impact of the new law remains to be seen, but at the time of its enactment there were already 442,000 registered sex offenders nationwide. In a NCMEC news release on the day of the bill signing, NCMEC said there were 600,000 sex offenders, with 150,000 of them “lost.” This could be an opportunity to launch a National Center on Missing Sex Offenders, a sure bet for a $10 million congressional earmark.
Since Bush took office, NCMEC has received earmarks totaling $99,765,000 from Congress. That amazing feat is made even more awesome by Allen’s claim of having no contact with the House missing kids caucus. Even more extraordinary is the claim made in NCMEC’s 2005 federal tax return that it spent just $1,029 over the previous five-year period lobbying Congress. Imagine that for every dollar invested in persuading Congress, you got $96,953.35 back! Ernie, they need you at Halliburton.
While Foley was busy helping NCMEC, keeping track of pages and sex offenders, and co-authoring with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) a June 2005 article in The Washington Times titled “Making Prey of the Predators,” co-chairman Cramer was not idle. In 1984, as the district attorney of Madison County, Ala., Cramer founded the Huntsville-based National Children’s Advocacy Center, “to provide comprehensive support and services for physically and sexually abused children in a child-friendly environment.” Cramer was elected to Congress in 1990. Since 2001, Cramer has obtained earmarks totaling $4,225,000 for the hometown program, now run by Chris Newlin.
In addition, Cramer launched what is now the D.C.-based National Children’s Alliance, which boasts 600 affiliates. Since 2001, its earmarks have totaled at least $4,450,000. In fiscal 2004, the group had revenue of $7,789,334. Direct public support totaled a mere $54,263, while federal taxpayers pitched in over $7 million. Dues from its 600 affiliates totaled $249,388, for an average of $415 each.
Nancy Chandler, the National Children’s Alliance executive director, did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article. Her annual salary in of 2005 was $138,915.
The Last Frontier
Having criminalized, digitized, publicized and bureaucratized every conceivable aspect of missing and exploited kids, where is Congress to turn next in its politically rewarding children’s crusade?
The Child Welfare League of America has a splendid idea for the 110th Congress. Noting that all the states and the District of Columbia have mandatory reporting requirements on the books, CWLA wants those in Congress to be mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect. CEO Shay Bilchik’s statement, released Oct. 4, says, “It is essential for Congress to act” and to explicitly designate all of its members and their staffs as mandatory reporters.
Contact: NCMEC (703) 274-3900, www.missingkids.com.