Since President Obama’s first year in office, the federal government has been illegally using your federal tax dollars to pay lobbyists at the state and local level to lobby for tax hikes, zoning restrictions, and other nanny state policies that pick your pockets and limit your freedom. Every time a scandal breaks or Congress tries to crack down on abuses, the grant-making program changes its name and keeps on going.
The initial Centers for Disease Control (CDC) program under the stimulus bill, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), was caught red-handed breaking the law. A report issued by government watchdog group Cause of Action found that “the CDC permitted and even encouraged... grantees in Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and California to violate federal law and use... funds to lobby state and local governments. Internal emails, applications to the CDC outlining plans for the funds, and meeting notes blatantly show systemic corruption and use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying.”
When the stimulus money ran out, it morphed into a permanent program under Obamacare called the Community Transformation Grant (CTG) program.
Congressional Republicans responded by strengthening the ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying and enacting detailed reporting requirements for grants and subgrants on a searchable public website. But then-Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the architect of all of these programs, managed to slip a separate $80 million appropriation for a new program, Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) into a 2014 appropriations bill, and he got it renewed for another $80 million in December’s so-called Cromnibus before retiring last year.
Two thirds of grants under the new PICH program have gone to grantees who also received funds from the old, scandal-plagued programs. The big difference is that the new program evades the reporting requirements that allowed us to identify abuses.
All of these programs use your federal tax dollars to raise your taxes and limit your freedom at the local levels. Specifically, they provide taxpayer-funded grants for television advertising, lobbying campaigns, and other activities aimed at raising taxes on soft drinks, imposing zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants, imposing smoking bans, and other nanny-state favorites.
In Philadelphia, the city spent millions of federal taxpayer dollars on advertising to promote a tax hike on soft drinks. The tax was defeated by a remarkable coalition of tea party and union activists, but Mayor Nutter has vowed to continue to pursue it. And why not, with federal taxpayers picking up the tab?
In California, federal taxpayers paid for an effort that resulted in a ban on fast food restaurants in West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Lemert, South Los Angeles, and Southeast Los Angeles. That’s right; a state with 11 percent unemployment used taxpayer dollars to intentionally prevent restaurants from opening that could employ thousands. And the health benefits? Zero, according to a major new study from the Rand Corporation.
In New York, then-Mayor Bloomberg - enemy of trans fats, sugar, salt, and pretty much anything else that tastes good - tapped CDC grants for flashy advertising attacking the soft drink industry and urging customers to “drink water, fat-free milk, seltzer, or unsweetened tea instead.”
When the original CPPW program ended in disgrace, the CDC advisory committee recommended the director take steps to “avoid the Congressional inquiries that focused on CPPW.” When Republicans tightened lobbying restrictions and reporting requirements, Harkin shifted the grantmaking to the new PICH program to put it back in the shadows. And the same liberal activists and lobbyists are still getting our tax dollars to raise our taxes and limit our freedom at the local level.
President Obama’s response to this lawbreaking? Make it legal. His budget again this year proposed repealing the ban on using tax dollars to lobby for tax hikes, restrictions on legal products, and gun control. It also proposed completely ending the reporting requirements. Wonder why.
It’s time to end the shell game; Congress should fully de-fund these programs. If Democratic obstinacy makes that impossible, then at a minimum Congress should impose uniform reporting requirements that cannot be evaded and conduct aggressive oversight to end illegal lobbying.
Mr. Kerpen is the president of American Commitment and the author of “Democracy Denied.” Kerpen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org