WASHINGTON – Representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the American Lung Association and several other nonprofit organizations said Tuesday their effectiveness would be hurt by a proposal that would inhibit their lobbying activities.
They said the amendment could also cause them to streamline or eliminate services, including those that benefit lung patients and the homeless.
An amendment sponsored by Rep. Ernest Istook Jr., R-Okla., and Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., would prohibit recipients of federal grants from spending more than $1 million on lobbying.
The proposal, pending in a House-Senate conference committee, was designed to encourage nonprofit organizations and others receiving federal grants to focus on service rather than advocacy and provide “real services that help real people,” said Richard Cross, a spokesman for Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium.
Ehrlich was a sponsor of an earlier version of the proposal.
The president of the American Lung Association said at Tuesday’s press conference that the amendment would force the group to refuse accepting any federal grants, so that it could continue lobbying.
As a result, the group might be forced to cut federally funded programs on tuberculosis prevention and treatment, radon detection and smoking prevention and cessation, said President Jacqueline McLeod.
“Our advocacy work is too important for us to give up,” said Gary Ewart, legislative representative for the American Lung Association. “We hope we aren’t faced with that choice.”
MADD President Katherine Prescott said her organization would “be buried in an avalanche of red tape and paperwork,” if the amendment is enacted. The group uses federal grant money to provide assistance for victims of drunk drivers and their families, to train victim advocates and to educate its members and the public about drunk driving, Prescott said.
But Cross said Ehrlich wants to prevent organizations from “taking money that’s earmarked to provide a service to the community and squandering it on advocacy.”
In a press release, Ehrlich said those looking for misuse of federal grant monies “need look no farther than our nation’s information superhighway to find one.” He said a California-based nonprofit group has used a $200,000 Commerce Department grant to fund political advocacy.
But if the Istook-Simpson amendment is passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton, many of the homeless served by the Baltimore-based Action for the Homeless Inc. might have to turn to emergency rooms for medical attention, said Executive Director Robert Hess. Others may end up in jails or institutions, Hess said.
He said his group is leaning toward turning down federal grants if the proposal is approved, rather than stopping lobbying.
“This amendment would simply add a new law where existing law is working [and] new regulations where they’re not needed,” Hess said.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Prince George’s, said he opposes the amendment because it silences the voices of nonprofit organizations. “Welcome to Washington, the seat of democracy in America,” he said sarcastically. The amendment has stalled action on a spending bill needed to fund Clinton’s executive office, the U.S. Tax Court, the Federal Election Commission and nearly three dozen other federal agencies. The bill has languished in conference committee for more than seven weeks, Hoyer said. -30-