Pro-Istook Witness Snooked by Nonprofits’ Foe

Bill Howard
November 1, 1995

Isaac Randolph is an Indianapolis city fireman and volunteer youth worker who runs a summer camp to teach disadvantaged children about leadership and how government works. Or should.

This fall Randolph received a hard lesson himself in how Washington really works — including a taste of deception and forgery.

He allowed himself to be snookered into accepting a free airplane ride to testify before Congress as the lone advocate from the nation's nonprofit sector to support the notorious Istook Amendment.

Heatedly opposed by thousands of other agencies across the social welfare spectrum, critics call the measure the "Silence America" bill because it would severely muzzle political advocacy and lobbying by nonprofits. They would have to report virtually all their contacts with governmental agencies — local, state and federal — as advocacy and be limited to spending only 5 percent of their nonfederal income on such activities — effectively putting them out of the constituency advocacy business. Department of Defense and other contractors, which spend millions of dollars on lobbying for weapons systems and public works, however, would be exempt.

As YOUTH TODAY went to press a House-Senate conference committee working on a compromise $23 billion appropriations bill to fund the White House, Treasury and other agencies was still bitterly deadlocked over the amendment tacked on by freshman Rep. Ernest J. Istook (R-Okla.), a former radio news reporter. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has called the amendment unconstitutional and charged the radical right with creating a "device to intimidate those with whom you disagree." Or another ploy to "defund the left."

In agreeing to appear at a Sept. 28 hearing chaired by conservative Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.) a co-sponsor of the Istook Amendment, Randolph now ruefully concedes he was "used." That realization dawned, he said, when at the very start of the hearing it was revealed that McIntosh's staff had forged an Alliance for Justice letterhead on which to print a document supposedly helping to back McIntosh's claim that taxpayers are subsidizing "welfare for lobbyists."

The D.C.-based Alliance, headed by Nan Aron, doesn't receive any federal money itself. The forged document purported to show amounts of federal grants received by the Alliance's member agencies such as the American Arts Alliance and the Center for Law in the Public Interest-figures which Aron tartly told McIntosh were not only wrong but none of his business.

"When that happened, I had every intention of getting up and walking out of that room," Randolph said. "I was very, very upset. Being on (Istook's) side put me in a bad light, I didn't come to Washington for that."

No, Not the YMCA, Too?

Worse, the fireman who started the St. Florian Youth Center in Indianapolis discovered that he had been placed by McIntosh's Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on a panel with C. J. VanPelt, director of public policy for the YMCA of the USA — a vocal opponent of the Istook measure. He was seated right next to her when VanPelt declared that the way the amendment defined '"political advocacy" would "undermine" the YMCA's capacity to work with local governments, implying its whole range of community services — from day care to combating youth gangs — would be jeopardized.

"I do respect the YMCA and the other nonprofits," Randolph said. "We do work with them back in Indianapolis. It kinda put me at odds to be in opposition. I told a couple of the other witnesses there that I never thought I'd be on the opposite side of the YMCA on anything."

So what was he doing there?

From Whence He Came

Randolph's nine-week summer camp for 60 youths aged 10-14 was started in 1993 on the Butler University campus and has been featured in the local newspaper. It is named after the patron saint of firefighters and run with volunteer help from Randolph's fellow members of the city fire department. The budget is $130,000 a year.

St. Florian's benefits from Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other funds lobbied through Congress by nonprofit interest groups, Randolph acknowledges. In 1994, he had summer youth jobs financing to hire young people at the camp — money the Republican-run Congress killed this year.

Late in the summer, Randolph said he was approached by one of McIntosh's staffers, Devon Anderson, about coming to Washington and testifying. "I had mixed feelings about coming and I told him you've got to fax me something. I'm not going up there just on a whim. It does me no good to fly into Washington to do something like that."

He did not live in McIntosh's district, which meant no quid pro quo was involved, and this was a plus as far Randolph was concerned. "1 don't want to be in anybody's pocket."

Keeping His Word — and Out

The firefighting youth worker doesn't recall exactly what Anderson faxed him. But he does remember it told of non-profit agencies spending $1 million or more on lobbying and that bothered him. Not, however, because of what might do to increase federal spending as lawmakers contend.

Rather, because Randolf himself couldn't imagine spending that kind of money on lobbying. The concept was totally alien to his world in Indianapolis.

"Look. I'm a fledgling organization. We had to cut staff, budget this year — that goes with the program — but it staggers me to imagine spending $1 million on lobbying. For some organizations maybe that is their job," he said.

"From my perception I do my best lobbying with my kids. 1 do my best lobbying with my parents. A million dollars 1 could stretch 10 to 15 years maybe 20. For those organizations that need it I'm not going to speak for them, I'm not going to counter their assertions because I don't know how they run things.

“That was not my issue there. I didn't want to be antagonistic. But I know for the St. Florian Center that it does not benefit us to divert any of our money from contributions, and what have you, to lobbying.

"I told Devon as 1 see it — I don't need lobbying." Which is essentially all that Randolph told the hearing and then ducked out lo catch a plane back home. And all McIntosh might have hoped for from his one friendly nonprofit witness — especially since that support was for all the wrong reasons.

Howard, Bill. " ‘Pro-Istook’ Witness Snooked by Nonprofits’ Foe." Youth Today, November/December 1995, p. 18-19.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.