John Lofton, Editor
The Conservative Caucus Foundation

450 Maple Avenue East * Vienna, Va. 22180

Watching for government waste!

Volume VIII, Number 1 January, 1997


In an interview with Martha Bergmark, President of the Federal Legal Services Corporation --- which currently spends $283 million per year, I asked her about a case in Georgia where a Legal Services attorney had reportedly helped a transsexual sue the state health department to pay for a sex change operation.

Bergmark said she knew nothing about this. She said, however, that many Legal Services cases do involve people trying to get what they are entitled to under many Federal programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid. But, Legal Services lawyers --- paid for, in part, by our hard-earned tax dollars --- are involved in much more than this.

The Washington Times (2/26/97) reports a coalition of 36 business and policy groups have called for ending all Federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) because of what they say is the agency's continued political advocacy. And 58 U.S. Senators have signed a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno blasting the Texas Rural Legal Aid group --- which gets 80 percent of its funding directly from the LSC --- for trying to overturn, in court, two Texas elections by throwing out absentee ballots of U.S. military personnel.

Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) says: "To use Federal grant money provided by the Legal Services Corporation to challenge [military members'] rights is unconscionable." A House oversight panel will investigate the LSC's role in this Texas case.

And this is not --- to put it mildly --- the only questionable use of Federal tax dollars by LSC-funded attorneys. According to the National Legal and Policy Center (8321 Old Courthouse Road, Suite 270, Vienna, Virginia 22182), here are some other cases LSC lawyers have been involved in --- our tax dollars "at work":


--- The Neighborhood Legal Services of Buffalo, New York, has represented six public housing tenants being evicted because of family members' involvement in illegal drug activity.

--- In 1994, Legal Services of Northern Virginia sued the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority for terminating rental assistance to a woman who had allowed illegal drug activity to take place in her apartment. During a search of the woman's apartment, police seized quantities of heroin, cocaine, and assorted drug paraphernalia. In May of 1996, an Appeals Court upheld the termination of assistance to this woman.


--- In 1996, Southeast Tennessee Legal Services (STLS) sued a Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee, for suspending a female student who had violated the school policy forbidding premarital sex. STLS charged "gender discrimination" that violated Federal law. A Federal judge subsequently ruled against STLS holding that Lee College punishes males and females equally under the premarital sex policy.


--- In 1995, the Legal Aid Foundation of Long Beach (LAFLB) and the ACLU sued this city's public school policy requiring students to wear uniforms. According to school administrators and academic researchers, the uniform policy has been successful: fighting dropped 51 percent; drug cases were down 69 percent; and sex offenses down 74 percent. The overwhelming majority of parents and students supported the uniform requirement. In February of 1996, the LAFLB/ACLU case was settled out of court. The mandatory uniform policy was left standing.


--- Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley Legal Services (LVLS) sued to get parental rights for the 16-year-old father of a child conceived by his rape of a 13-year-old girl. The rapist had a long criminal record and two other illegitimate children. In March of 1995, a judge ruled against LVLS and criticized "misguided adults" for bringing this case.


--- Legal Services of Greater Miami (LSGM) fought for the "right" of a homosexual couple to adopt a child, which is against Florida law. LSGM sought declaratory and injunctive relief for their sex pervert clients, citing the violation of their rights to equal protection, due process, and privacy. Initially, a trial court struck down the Florida law. The state Supreme Court, however, partially upheld the law but required that it be modified to better justify the prohibition on homosexual adoption.


--- In California, true to their word, several LSC grantees initiated lawsuits to overturn Proposition 187's ban on most government services for illegal aliens. There are about, for example, 14,000 illegal immigrants enrolled in the state's community colleges in addition to 500 enrolled at California State University campuses and 125 at the University of California.


--- In 1992, the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago (LAF) sued the Immigration and Naturalization Service for allegedly subjecting alien detainees to inhumane conditions of confinement. Among LAF's baseless complaints was that food for these aliens was not nutritional and too repetitive --- though the detention centers often served ground steak, burritos, baked potatoes, green beans, and rice. The LAF also alleged that Constitutional "rights" to indoor and outdoor exercise time were also denied. In 1995, a Federal district court threw out all of these charges.


--- In 1994, Legal Action of Wisconsin (LAW) sued the state for trying to prevent individuals from moving there to get generous welfare benefits. Wisconsin has a two-tier welfare system under which new arrivals are paid benefits equal to those of their home state for the first six months of their residency. LAW sued alleging that this limitation unconstitutionally infringes upon the "right" of the poor to travel. This suit has not yet been decided.


--- In 1995, Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ) tried to overturn the "Family Cap" provision, the centerpiece of the state's comprehensive welfare reform plan. This "Cap" eliminates increases in Federal welfare payments for additional out-of-wedlock children born to a recipient. LSNJ attorneys argued that since a woman's right to reproduce is Constitutionally protected, it is incumbent on the government to subsidize her procreational needs. A Federal court denied this assertion.


--- In 1994, Evergreen Legal Services (ELS) initiated lengthy legal action against a Seattle ordinance prohibiting aggressive panhandling. Before this law, pedestrians were having to run a gauntlet of intimidation, derogatory remarks, and the residue of urine and alcohol while store owners were complaining of having to remove human waste from their doorsteps every morning. ELS argued this law was unconstitutional because it "chills and restricts" beggars' First Amendment rights to free expression. In 1996, a U.S. Appeals Court upheld this ordinance.


--- In 1992, Orange County Legal Aid (OCLA) sued the city of Santa Ana for preventing the homeless from living on public property. Hundreds of homeless had been camping out at the city's Civic Center Plaza forcing government employees going to and from work to negotiate a maze of harassing beggars, rats, shopping carts, and grounds strewn with human waste. OCLA argued that the law violated the "right" of the homeless to travel. The California Supreme Court rejected this argument and upheld the city's law.


These cases are, of course, just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. For decades --- spending hundreds of millions of our hard-earned tax dollars --- Federal Legal Services Corporation-funded lawyers have been filing, in every state of our country, similar outrageous and indefensible law suits.

Legal Services President Martha Bergmark says, in The Washington Times (2/26/97): "Opponents of the Legal Services Corporation often distort wildly the facts of the case to further their cause...Legal Services lawyers do everything they can to give high-quality representation to clients that arise out of the everyday problems of the poor."


But, in cases such as those cited here --- and many, many more such cases could be cited --- there is no need to "distort wildly" anything. All one has to do is simply describe the facts of these cases to demonstrate how absurd and idiotic they are. They ought not to have been filed at all --- much less at the expense of the American taxpayer.

The Federal Legal Services Corporation should be totally abolished, its budget reduced to zero. It is unconstitutional, as its President has admitted in an interview with me. And this fact, alone, merits its abolition, immediately.

Volume VII, Number 7 July, 1996


One of the things I've noticed over the years, as I have prepared this feature, is that, all too frequently, those who feed at the public trough, and spend our hard-earned tax dollars, are arrogant, have a public-be-damned attitude, and are very nonchalant about accounting, publicly, for the public money they spend. Take, for example, a Washington D.C.-based group called the Center For Law And Education (CLE).

Recently, I received a copy of the CLE's "School Improvement Catalog" which, it is said, was sent to me "because of your interest in improving public schools for all children" --- which is true, sort of. But, I want to improve "public schools" by abolishing them completely. It is no job of any government --- Federal, state, or local --- to educate anyone's children.

In any event, this catalog reveals the CLE to be a classic example of a group that ought never to have received any kind of Federal funding. How many of our tax dollars has this group spent since it was established in 1969? Well, this has not been easy to determine. A spokesman for the Legal Services Corporation says it gave the CLE $770,000 in 1994. And the Co-Director of the CLE, Paul Weckstein, will tell me only that their Federal funding over the years has been "substantial." He will say no more. Evidently, this so-called "public interest" group does not believe it is in the interest of the public to know how much public money it has spent.

So, what, exactly, are we getting from the CLE for our money? Well, here are some of what is offered in their catalog:

--- For $4, an 11-page publication titled "Ability/Achievement Grouping: An Outline Of The Law." This summarizes case law and outlines legal standards "for challenging ability/achievement grouping" under a number of laws. In other words, this tells people how to sue to stop classes from separating students and teaching them according to their abilities. What, exactly, is wrong with this is not said.

--- For $10, we can get a 24 inch by 36 inch full color poster which illustrates dozens of programs which, it is suggested, we can hang on a wall "for inspiration and a constant reminder" of our commitment to improving our schools.

--- For $25, we can get a full report, titled "Consolidated School Planning: School Reform At Risk," which trashes the idea of block grants to the states for education. A blurb promoting this publication warns, ominously, that it is a "grim preview" of what will happen if we have "new, flexible planning requirements" under block grants to the states.

--- An item pushing CLE's "VOCED Project" promotes the agenda of Big Labor union bosses. It asks: "Did you know you can rent videos from the AFL-CIO Education Department on economic policy, labor history, and technological change?"

--- And for $15 --- this is my favorite --- we can get a publication titled "Grantseeking: How To Find A Funder And Write A Winning Proposal." This, we are told, is a "detailed road map to becoming a successful grantee. In other words, the CLE, which gets taxpayers' money itself, will sell us a book (and keep the money itself, of course), which tells other people how to also thrust their respective snouts deeply, and "successfully," into the public trough --- to get more Federal funds!

In addition to these publications, there are numerous others which tell folks: how to fight against "school discipline" and for "student rights;" how to qualify for Federal "services" if, among other things, your child was a "low birth weight" baby; how to fight "racially disparate school discipline;" and how to fight (take a deep breath before you say this one) "public school residency requirements for students living with non-parent, non-guardian caretakers." Oh, and on the last page, we are told that we can get a publication titled "Planning For Title I Programs" which includes "a 4-page summary --- in Chinese"!

Now, back to how much of our hard-earned tax dollars the CLE has spent since it was founded in 1969. Linda Bennett, whose title is "Federal Advocate," and who tells me she does "advocate work at the Federal level," doesn't know how much Federal money her organization has received. In a telephone interview, when I ask this question, she puts me on hold. When she returns, she declines to discuss this question saying she does not feel "comfortable" discussing it with me.

Okay. So, I ask the same question of Paul Weckstein, Co-Director of the CLE, which employs, he says, "about 15 people": How much Federal money have you received since 1969?

Answer: "Oh, I don't know. Really couldn't tell you. A substantial amount."

Me: "What is your annual budget?"

A: "I'm not in the habit of sharing that."

Me: (Again) "How much Federal money have you received?"

A: "I need a reason to give that out and see no reason to tell you." He does say they have gotten money from the Federal Legal Services Corporation.

Me: "Do you keep the money from your books that you sell?"

A: "Yes, we do and spend it for our tax-exempt purposes."

Me: "Do you have an annual report I can see?"

A: "No."

Me: "How do you account for what you spend?"

A: "We report to our funding sources" (one of which, of course, I am, as a Federal taxpayer, but he will tell me nothing, specifically).

Me: "But, you say you are a 'public interest' group, right?"

A: "That's right. But, no, we don't give our financial information to just anybody who calls."

Me: "You say you are a group seeking reforms in education. Have you put out anything about vouchers, or choice, for parents, in education?"

A: "No."

Me: "Why not?"

A: "It's just not an issue we've worked on."

Q: "Have you said anything about the worthwhile nature of private, Christian education?"

A: "No, our focus has been on public schools."

Me: "Why?"

A: "That's what our funding mission was really focused on."

Me: "Have you said anything about prayer in the public schools?"

A: "Nope."

Me: "Have you said anything about any church/state issues regarding education?"

A: "I'm not sure. This has not been a focus of our work."

Me: (one more time) "Why won't you tell me how much Federal money you've received since 1969, since you say it is 'substantial'?"

A: "This would take some time to do and we only give this out for a purpose, to be accountable to our public."

Me: "Well, I'm your public! I'm a taxpayer!"

A: "I'm not going to take the time to go back and compile a record for you, no. I'm not going to do that."

Me: "How about for just the past five years?"

After a pause, a long pause, and after insisting he's not a government agency, he says, again, "no," he won't do this because he's "not in the habit of collecting this information."

And this is the problem, isn't it? --- the "habit" these folks have formed over the decades. They are so busy spending our hard-earned tax dollars that they just don't have time to tell us how much of this money they have squandered. Or, to put it more accurately, these arrogant tax consumers brazenly refuse to tell us how much, and precisely on what, they have spent our money.

In the aforementioned CLE catalog there is a "Reader Survey." So, I'd like to answer, here, a couple of their questions. Question: "What kinds of information would you find most helpful?" My answer: "Information that would assure me that groups like yours will never, ever, again, receive any of my tax dollars to fund your radically Leftist agenda." Question: "What would be the most useful ways for you to give and receive information about how to change your schools?" My answer: "Any way which would, again, assure me that the government will, totally, get out of education in America. This is one of the best ways to 'change' our schools." Thanks for asking.

John Lofton, a former editor of Conservative Digest, is an author, lecturer, and advocate for Christian and conservative causes. He publishes The Lofton Letter, a sample copy of which is available for $2 from: Box 1142, Laurel, Maryland 20725.

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