May 14, 2007
Onward, Christian Lobbyists
Should ministries angle for earmarks?
There's been a legitimate debate about President Bush's faith-based initiative and the wisdom of ministries seeking government funds to carry out the "secular" aspect of their social ministries - helping the homeless, the unemployed, the drug addicted, the victims of spousal abuse. Will such ministries over-secularize their efforts just to keep government inspectors happy - or their own consciences clean? Should the church do such ministry without an appropriate spiritual component?
Those are all legitimate areas for debate. But a New York Times story posted this past weekend raises a related and still more problematic issue. Religious Groups Reap Federal Aid for Pet Projects reports that a number of religious institutions and ministries have now hired lobbyists to seek earmarks for their special projects. Unlike grants made through the usual welfare programs, earmark funding carries little or no accountability. No regulators. No inspectors. And earmarks are a multifaceted problem for our federal budget. (See Chuck Colson's CT column, "The Earmark Epidemic" from October 2006.)
The article quotes NAE vice president for governmental affairs Rich Cizik thus:
The Rev. Richard Cizik ... said that while religious organizations should be able to compete for federal money, such groups "shouldn't do that through earmarks." He explained, "As good stewards of the public trust, we have to be transparent and above board - and earmarks are not transparent or above board."
Time for a new debate.