Last week's NYTimes published a story
on the lucrative business religious-based groups are doing with Congress in order to obtain noncompetitive earmarks without having to bid for them. Many of these groups are also hiring professional lobbyists to lasso the earmarks, which are said to feed the budget deficit and which have resulted in congressional bribery scandals.
The phenomenal growth of religious-based earmarks is shown by the Times bar chart on the left. The longest bar represents the 108th Congress (2003-2005).
Reading the NYT piece made me sit up and take notice of this morning's Tennessean, which listed
U.S. Representative Jim Cooper's (D) requested 2008 earmarks. There are a number of religious-based groups in his bunch (I do not know whether they retained lobbyists or whether those lobbyists enlisted Mr. Cooper's support):
- $300,000 to the YMCA for Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth Program
- $1,000,000 to Lipscomb University for conflict management courses for police
- $500,000 to Lipscomb University for geothermal heating/cooling in campus buildings
- $1,500,000 to Lipscomb University for nurse retention
- $250,000 to Belmont University to support the Health Science Center
- $1,250,000 to the YMCA for youth outreach programs, including "character development"
- $1,417,000 to the YMCA for after-school programs
In fairness to these organizations, there are other non-religious non-profits that Mr. Cooper is seeking to subsidize. And funding non-profits in general when public programs are suffering cuts is due scrutiny.
However, religious-based organizations focus on the narrowest, most prosaic missions and value sets, but they do not have to compete to get the earmarks. For instance, David Lipscomb describes itself thusly
committed to teach truth as revealed in God’s word through daily Bible classes and chapel, encouraging each student to an exploration of scripture, to know Jesus Christ and to grow in His image. Classes in every area are taught in a faith-informed approach by highly qualified faculty who represent the range of perspectives that exist among churches of Christ.
The YMCA is poised to score almost $3,000,000 in earmarks from Congress. On the one hand, the YMCA keeps the "spiritual" component in its mission broad enough so that it cannot be charged with proselytizing those it serves.
On the other hand, the YMCA is a major sponsor of parochial events like the Downtown Prayer Celebration
, which is an extension of the National Day of Prayer (NDP). NDP is coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force
, which reportedly
instructs its volunteers to allow only conservative Christians to speak, and “Christian nation” rhetoric often punctuates its rhetoric. My family supports the YMCA with our money and we sent one of our daughters to YMCA summer camp, but I do not believe that $3M in federal tax dollars should be going to an organization that sponsors conservative Christian rallies.
We also should be questioning whether these earmarks (along with all non-profit earmarks) are taking money away from public services that address the broadest human need possible. Mr. Cooper should be asking for funding that has the greatest impact on the local community at large, not helping special constituencies that might return favors in the future.