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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Should Earmarks be Spent on Lobbying? Should Lobbyists Represent Congressmen?

Should earmarks paid for with public funds be spent promoting projects under consideration by Congress?

Is it OK for a lobbyist to represent a Congressman at a meeting about one of the Congressman's bills?

As far as I know, these things as legal, but are they proper?

Husband David has an op-ed on TownHall today that examines at a case in which both seem to have happened.

At issue is the creation of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, which will run from Gettysburg, PA to Charlottesville, VA, unless President Bush vetoes the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (S. 2739), which is now on the President's desk.

Heritage areas are National Park Service preservation zones in which environmentalists, federal officials and local activists influence local land-use decisions, frequently in ways that restrict the rights of private property owners and make property ownership more difficult for those of low or moderate income.

The Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 is the same legislation that would allow taxpayer money to be spent studying places "that are significant to the life of Cesar E. Chavez." Chavez was, of course, the ultra-militant leader of the United Farm Workers and a man who, as Project 21's Joe Hicks has said in Congressional testimony, "did or said little to reign in the violence" against workers by union organizers. Members of Congress who find this form of domestic terrorism worthy of honor are trying to use tax funds in an effort to make Chavez seem like another Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Joe Hicks pointed out on May 5, "To say the jury is still out on the legacy of Cesar Chavez is an understatement. Unlike other individuals who have been honored in the manner suggested by this earmark, the politics behind and the consequences of Chavez's activism remain dubious."

Hicks, once a member of the Communist Party USA, trained UFW members in "revolutionary theory" and marched arm-in-arm with Jesse Jackson at Cesar Chavez's funeral in 1993.

If you have an opinion on using earmarks to promote legislative proposals, Congressmen being represented by lobbyists, national heritage areas or even the use of tax dollars to honor dubious labor union organizing techniques, drop by TownHall.com to learn more and leave your views.

Addendum, May 8: The White House has signaled its comfort with the above, signing the bill into law today. The full text of the White House statement:
On Thursday, May 8, 2008, the President signed into law:

S. 2457, which authorizes the Mashantucket Pequot (Western) Tribe to lease certain land to entities for up to 75 years, rather than 25 years as under current law,

S. 2739, the "Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008," which designates the 106,000-acre Wild Sky Wilderness in Washington State; designates three new National Heritage Areas; expands several national parks; authorizes funding for specified water projects; modifies two existing energy programs; applies U.S. immigration law to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; and grants the Commonwealth a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
I can't say I'm surprised President Bush signed this, if only because he's signed a lot of bills that appear to be contrary to a limited government philosophy, and it is his Administration's National Park Service that worked in favor of the legislation and failed to fully comply with a Freedom of Information Act request regarding its activities (not that I am under any illusion that National Park Service officials thought they were doing the bidding of the man the voters elected when they did these things). When it comes to expanding government's size, "just say no" has not been the hallmark of this Administration or its agencies.

On a more positive note, however, it's almost a miracle the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area was not adopted two years ago. When proponents of legislative proposals get a million bucks worth of help in tax money from Congress before they are even incorporated, its a pretty clear sign they've got Congressional support and a leg-up over those of us who rely on voluntary donations to pay our bills. Before we started this fight to remind Congress that federalism and the Fifth Amendment right to private property are worth defending, national heritage areas tended to sail right through Congress. Even genuinely conservative Members hadn't stopped to think about the contradiction between their beliefs and what national heritage areas do and are. Now opposition to them is the new, though for all that, fairly strong conservative position on Capitol Hill. We may not have been able to stop the wasteful (and far worse) behavior surrounding the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, but we've most likely slowed the creation of more of these elitist boondoggles.

Those interested in more information about national heritage areas -- as this particular policy battle is far from over -- might find the following resources helpful:
"The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area: An Example of How Pork-Barrel Politics Can Threaten Local Rule and Property Rights," by Peyton Knight for the National Center for Public Policy Research, available here

"Another Federal Assault on Property Rights: The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act," by Ron Utt for the Heritage Foundation, available here (this is the paper in which Dr. Utt revealed that the private organizers of this heritage area have "acknowledged that they are contemplating additional wealth-enhancing opportunities through the creation of a privately owned, for-profit real estate investment trust (REIT) to acquire properties in the heritage area and presumably develop them for the benefit of the REIT's shareholders...")

To read a coalition letter signed by over 110 organizations, elected officials and concerned citizens about heritage areas sent to Congress in September 2007, go here (pdf)

For a short handout-style document on heritage areas, "What People Are Saying about National Heritage Areas," suitable for distribution at public meetings, go here (pdf)
Or, simply go to the National Center for Public Policy Research's search page and type in "national heritage areas" -- we've got 80 documents so far, and, no doubt, more to come.

Thanks to all who joined us in this effort. While supporters of limited government had a setback today, because of our work together on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, our support for the next battle federalism and property rights battle is much deeper. I'm confident that victories lie ahead.
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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:41 PM

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