In "Exporting Democracy" [editorial, June 25], The Post argued that my recent amendment to reform the mostly noncompetitive grants process at the National Endowment for Democracy "sounded" reasonable and democratic. But the Post went on to applaud the amendment's defeat because the endowment's grants process has a "wholesome set of checks and balances true to the spirit of American democracy."

The endowment automatically gives about 65 percent of its taxpayer-provided grant funds to four "core grantees," associated with the major political parties, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The endowment assure us that these groups are broadly representative of American democracy, and the organization is experienced and well, it's been done this way for years. Wholesome? Spirit of democracy?

The Post asserts that my proposal "sought to strip the endowment of its favor for and reliance on the four `core` groups . . .. " I want to end favoritism in the endowment's grants process, but under my amendment those four well-connected groups still would get automatic funding for five years and would remain eligible for grants ever after. I don't want the endowment to cut off those groups, and my amendment won't do that. It leaves the grant decisions to the endowment. The core grantees surely would get a big share, and that's fine, as long as the decisions are made on the merits. Scores of other groups compete for grants, but only for the 35 percent of funds not reserved for business, labor and the parties. What is fair about that?

The editors infer that I want "to put the whole of [the endowment's] $30 million budget up for competitive political bidding." That is exactly backward. The political mischief happened in the endowment's early days, when it was decided to "wire in" as perpetual grantees four of the most powerful institutions in Washington -- one to guard every approach. The fix is in, and for now, it remains.


U.S. Senator (D-Wis.)