Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives want to keep non-profit organizations from spending government money to lobby the government for more money.
You read it correctly. Tax-exempt groups are using taxpayers' money on campaigns to convince lawmakers they need more funding to operate programs and promote causes. Strange as it sounds, Republicans say it is happening - and all too often.House freshmen are leading the fight to get the organizations to quit the federally financed lobbying or forfeit their government funding. The issue seems clear-cut, since current law already bars the use of federal funds for political activities.
The House members are targeting many of the 39,000 non-profit groups that share $40 billion in U.S. grant money, an amount they say represents one-quarter of this year's federal budget deficit.
The political activities of these groups should be restricted, especially when it involves use of government money. It's about time Congress began keeping tabs on how these billions in taxes are being spent.
Among the groups are Planned Parenthood, a strong lobbying force for abortion rights, and the American Bar Association, which opposed a constitutional amendment banning flag burning. Other groups are the YMCA, National Council of Senior Citizens and smaller organizations such as Boys Village of Milford, Conn.
The organizations spend the bulk of their grants - which provide up to 96 percent of their operating budgets - on services to children and youth, the elderly and the poor. But many are also active in political efforts.
The legislation being considered would deny grants to any organization that spends more than 5 percent of its non-federal funds on political activities and would require extensive reporting on how the group spent its money.
Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr., R-Okla., sponsored the legislation to "separate the true charities from the lobbying groups which wish to masquerade as charities."
Istook doubts the wisdom of taxpayer support of charities in general. He asks: "If people desire to support an activity that is not part of the basic role of government, why are they not encouraged to do so through private donations rather than sending their money to Washington?"
It's a good question and not one likely to answered by this Congress. But lawmakers should approve the legislation Istook is championing. Charity groups should limit lobbying and never should pay for political activities with government money.