Howard Dana, a former member of President Reagan's board of directors of the Legal Services Corp., said yesterday that presidential counselor Edwin Meese III had done more for Legal Services than had "50,000 bleeding-heart liberals."
Dana, a Reagan loyalist who ran the president's 1980 Maine campaign, said Meese's antagonism to the program over the past year was a major factor in galvanizing support for congressional passage last month of a resolution to prevent any major tampering with the program until a new board of directors is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.
A White House aide said Meese would have no comment.
Legal Services, the program of free legal assistance to the poor, long has been a target of many conservatives. The administration has twice tried unsuccessfully to abolish the program, and Reagan's opposition goes back to his days as governor of California, when Meese worked on his behalf in an unsuccessful effort to get rid of the state program.
Last December, Dana and a handful of other board members opposed attempts by the majority on the board to cut the program and drastically limit the kinds of lawsuits Legal Services lawyers could bring. Congress then approved legislation that prohibits any unconfirmed board from cutting grants or limiting the cases.
"Congress has put a wall around the program. The new [Legal Services] directors can continue to generate very bad press for the administration, but they can't really change the program without congressional involvement," Dana said.
The recess appointments of nine of the 11 members of the Reagan board, including Dana, expired last month when Congress went out of session. Reagan has not yet named a new board.
In a speech to a Boston Legal Services program yesterday, Dana argued that it is possible to support Legal Services and still be a Reagan Republican.
Dana said that Congress passed the legislation to protect Legal Services because of the "strong base of support . . . for the concept of federally guaranteed minimum access to the civil justice system for all Americans."
But Dana also gave much of the credit for the legislation to "the conduct of Ed Meese. He has done more for the Legal Services Corp. than almost anyone I can think of. He has done what 50,000 bleeding-heart liberals could never do. He has galvanized the left, the real right and the center into a phalanx of opposition to what can only be described as his 'sneak attack' on the corporation."