Follow the Money
Fifteen of the country's most prominent AIDS organizations, meanwhile, had their finances investigated by the federal government after they joined in a protest of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson at an international AIDS conference. And two HIV-prevention groups serving the gay community, San Francisco's Stop AIDS and Washington's Us Helping Us, were hit with audits and obscenity investigations that lasted for more than a year. Though Stop AIDS was exonerated by federal investigators, who found that even its most explicit HIV-prevention programs conformed with "currently acceptable behavioral theories," the group learned in June that it would no longer receive federal funds. Nor would some two-thirds of the AIDS agencies the federal government had previously funded to do community prevention work--many of them outspoken critics of Bush.
Head Start program directors received a harsh warning letter--and a federal financial inquiry--after they raised their voices against Administration plans to restructure the preschool program, changes that would open the door for church groups to administer local Head Starts. "We agree that they have the right to audit us, since we receive government funds," says James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. "But what does it mean when the audit mechanism can be used selectively and politically?"
According to Kay Guinane, author of an OMB Watch report that documents several of these incidents, it's extremely unusual for federal audit powers to be used in such a targeted way, or to be triggered by policy disagreements. Guinane notes that organizations in sync with Administration policy have not faced financial audits, even when they appeared to be in open breach of the law. A board member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which received $600,000 to educate parents about school choices available to them, publicly announced that he'd use the funds to lobby the Pennsylvania legislature to subsidize home-schooling parents. While any nonprofit may use private funds to lobby, it's illegal to use public funds in this way, Guinane says, but, she notes, "that hasn't triggered an audit" of BAEO.
Family planning groups have borne the brunt of this defunding effort. International Planned Parenthood, long a target of the Christian right (the Family Research Council describes it as a "leftist organization" engaged in an "assault on religion" and the promotion of "rampant sexual promiscuity"), lost $12 million a year when Bush reinstituted the Mexico City Policy, which denies funding to any organization that even takes a pro-choice position in public policy debates. Though Congress had approved the funding in a bipartisan vote, Bush withheld $34 million in 2002 from the UN Population Fund after Christian right groups inaccurately claimed that it supported coerced abortions in China. The following year Bush defunded a consortium that provides HIV prevention and reproductive health to refugees in conflict-torn nations, justifying his decision with the same false claim.
When I asked Janice Crouse, a senior staffer at Concerned Women for America, what she saw as the biggest family-values victories under George W. Bush, she listed two items: his stepped-up activity against sex trafficking and his effort to "follow the money." "One of the things that have been a problem for us is that the radical nongovernmental organizations are so well funded," she said. "They know how to get grant money, they know the political structures and they are unified in their purpose to achieve reproductive services worldwide. We have been able to say, 'Where is this money going?' and we have been able to follow the trail. Tracing the money and insisting that money go to groups that support the Administration's values and policy positions is vitally important. And we've made a lot of progress."
Indeed, Bush's campaign has been bolstered by similar efforts on the part of conservative activists. The American Enterprise Institute recently teamed up with the Federalist Society to launch NGO Watch, an effort to discredit, and ultimately defund, enemy NGOs. On its list of targets? The ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Audubon Society and, of course, Planned Parenthood.