tampabay.com

Lawmakers want watchdog group to reveal its contributors

By BILL ADAIR
Published May 12, 2006


WASHINGTON - Two members of Congress say the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste should reveal who is paying for its lobbying campaigns.

Responding to a story in the St. Petersburg Times, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis said the group should publish its contributors so people can decide if CAGW's lobbying campaigns are inspired more by money than ideology.

"For groups like this that pretend to be holier than thou, it is very important that they take the mask off," said Lewis, a Republican from California. "There should be real transparency. We should know their biases at the outset."

The Times reported last month that CAGW has traded on its watchdog reputation by taking money from companies and trade associations and then conducting lobbying and public relations campaigns on their behalf, without revealing that money changed hands. The group has lobbied on issues that have no connection with government waste, such as trade laws for avocados.

Lewis' comments were echoed by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who said he was surprised to learn from the Times story that CAGW was lobbying on behalf of its contributors. He said the group was being "deceptive" by not disclosing the connections.

"I don't think they can hold themselves out to be a public interest group while taking money and lobbying on behalf of that money. They need to reveal where their money comes from," said Simpson, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

"The fact that they take money from industries and lobby on their behalf is stunning. Certainly it undermines their credibility."

As members of the Appropriations Committee, Lewis and Simpson have sometimes been targets of CAGW. The group has criticized Lewis for approving defense and wastewater projects for his district, and the group has disagreed with Simpson about the congressional power to allocate money for lawmakers' projects. Simpson says that is part of Congress' constitutional obligation, while CAGW says it leads to political pork.

But Simpson and Lewis say their criticism isn't sour grapes. They simply want CAGW to be open about whether its public positions on issues are motivated by money.

CAGW did not respond to phone calls and e-mails Thursday. Tom Schatz, the group's president, has said that its donors have the right to remain anonymous and that CAGW only lobbies on issues that are consistent with its antiwaste principles.

Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at adair@sptimes.com or 202 463-0575.

TO LEARN MORE

To read the previous story on lobbying campaigns by Citizens Against Government Waste, go to links.tampabay.com