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Don't muzzle nonprofits Punitive approach: Republicans attempt to curb abuses that are already illegal.


AT A TIME when social spending is falling prey to budget deficits and tight-fisted taxpayers, charitable organizations are anticipating a huge increase in the demand for their services. They'll have a hard enough time scrambling for the resources to meet those needs without being hobbled by a punitive proposal being pushed by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

The tool is an appropriations provision that puts limits on an organization's ability to lobby public officials or to influence public opinion. Maryland's own Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-2nd, is one of the champions of this measure, which would prohibit any nonprofit group receiving federal dollars, directly or indirectly, from spending more than 5 percent of its privately raised funds for such activities.

Imagine the effort it will take for federal bureaucrats to monitor the budgets of all nonprofit organizations, or for small, largely volunteer operations to keep track of all the data the government will want to see.

The targets of this legislation may be big, politically powerful groups like the American Association of Retired Persons or the American Bar Association. If so, this scatter-shot approach would do less to correct any perceived problems than it would to hurt the little organizations that work hard on shoe-string budgets to make communities better places to live.

Despite the hard-line rhetoric coming from Representative Ehrlich and his colleagues, we see no persuasive evidence that nonprofit organizations are running amok over the legislative process. Even if they were, they could be prosecuted under laws that have been on the books for decades: It is already illegal for non-profits to use government funds for lobbying purposes.

This country has many problems begging for attention. Nonprofit lobbying activity is not among them.

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