President Reagan's newly issued restrictions on the government's annual charity drive have drawn protests from civil rights, environmental and women's rights groups, who say they are being kicked out of the drive because they advocate liberal social and public policy views.
The groups, organized as the National Coalition to Expand Charitable Giving, expect to go to court soon to fight their ouster on constitutional grounds. They have focused their objections on a section of the president's executive order that bans participation in the drive by groups that try to influence public policy through advocacy, lobbying or litigation.
Among some 36 organizations likely to be cut from the drive's eligibility list are the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, the Children's Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and legal defense and education funds for the National Organization for Women and Federally Employed Women.
Reagan's order, according to Donald J. Devine, director of the Office of Personnel Management, will encourage federal workers to make payroll contributions to more traditional health and welfare agencies that provide direct services to the poor.
But some of the advocacy groups affected complain that no other charitable solicitation drive is limited in this way. They warn that mainline charities such as the American Lung Association, Planned Parenthood and even United Way, which collects 72 percent of the contributions, could be excluded because of the lobbying and legal advocacy prohibitions.
"It's an assault on private giving," argues Robert Bothwell, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
Payroll deductions to the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) raised $13.7 million here and $93 million nationwide from government workers in 1981, constituting the largest charity solicitation drive in the country. Last fall's drive is expected to top that sum by about 7 percent nationally and 4.5 percent in the Washington area, although the total is still being calculated.
With millions of dollars at stake, groups in the CFC have fought to stay there and other organizations have sued for the right to participate in the drive. Last year's drive included liberal and conservative groups and legal defense funds who would be barred from participation under the new executive order.
The new restrictions are being hailed by the United Way of America, which formed a coalition of 20 other CFC groups last year to lobby for the changes.
"Opening up the campaign to advocacy or political groups causes people to get upset," said Steve Delfin, director of media relations for United Way of America. "And when that happens, they don't designate to a specific charity , they boycott."
Delfin said he hopes the impending regulations implementing the order will be flexible enough on the advocacy section so as not to be a problem for his group.
Newly admitted groups say overall contributions have climbed as the drive has been opened up, but Delfin said United Way-funded agencies lost $3 million in contributions during the 1982 drive because of the controversy surrounding the admission of advocacy groups, particularly the National Right to Work Foundation.