Grants Flow To Bush Allies On Social Issues

President Bush with Sedgwick Daniels, a convention delegate whose church got $1.4 million from the government.
President Bush with Sedgwick Daniels, a convention delegate whose church got $1.4 million from the government. (By Morry Gash -- Associated Press)

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By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

For years, conservatives have complained about what they saw as the liberal tilt of federal grant money. Taxpayer funds went to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs.

In the Bush administration, conservatives are discovering that turnabout is fair play: Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues.

Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews.

An example is Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C. A decade ago, Heritage was a tiny organization with deeply conservative social philosophy but not much muscle to promote it. An offshoot of an antiabortion pregnancy crisis center, Heritage promoted abstinence education at the county fair, local schools and the local Navy base. The budget was $51,288.

By 2004, Heritage Community Services had become a major player in the booming business of abstinence education. Its budget passed $3 million -- much of it in federal grants distributed by Bush's Department of Health and Human Services -- supporting programs for students in middle school and high school in South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky.

Among other new beneficiaries of federal funding during the Bush years are groups run by Christian conservatives, including those in the African American and Hispanic communities. Many of the leaders have been active Republicans and influential supporters of Bush's presidential campaigns.

Programs such as the Compassion Capital Fund, under the Health and Human Services, are designed to support religion-based social services, a goal that inevitably funnels money to organizations run by people who share Bush's conservative cultural agenda.

"If what you are asking is, has George Bush as president of the United States established priorities in spending for his administration? The answer is yes," said Wade F. Horn, who as assistant secretary for children and families at HHS oversees much of the spending going to conservative groups. "That is a prerogative that presidents have."

Horn and other officials said politics has not played a role in making grants. "Whoever got these grants wrote the best applications, and the panels in rating these grants rated them objectively, based on the criteria we published in the Federal Register," he said. "Whether they support the president or not is not a test in any of my grant programs."

"These are just slush funds for conservative interest groups," countered Bill Smith, vice president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, one of the most outspoken critics of abstinence-only sex-education programs. "These organizations would not be in existence if not for the federal dollars coming through."

H. James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said politics plays no role in grant-making decisions. "We don't have that kind of calculation," he said.

Most, but not all, of the money going to conservative groups has come from two programs that did not exist before Bush took office in 2001. The Compassion Capital Fund, which distributed $148.3 million from 2002 to 2005, was created "to expand the role that faith-based and community groups play in providing social services to those in need," according to the White House.


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