The government issued regulations yesterday for this year's Combined Federal Campaign amid a controversy over whether the rules are already too late for this year's charitable drive and whether they are fair, or even constitutional.
In a hearing of the House Government Operations subcommittee on manpower and housing, several members of Congress and representatives of the participating groups expressed concern about whether the annual charitable drive among federal employes will be able to meet its normal September kickoff date.
"I believe we are faced with a practically impossible situation in trying to implement these regulations this year," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the subcommittee chairman. Frank said he would recommend that the rules be delayed for one year, "not on the grounds that the regulations are bad; it's just that there is no way we can have this done in time."
Donald J. Devine, director of the Office of Personnel Management, tried to reassure Frank and other members about the delays. "We're fully convinced that we can run the campaign with the schedule that we have," he said. "We fully expect to implement the new rules this year."
After a 30-day comment period, Devine said, OPM expects to issue final rules by Aug. 31. Organizations that wish to participate must then apply to OPM and to the 560 local campaigns. OPM has to decide which organizations qualify, consider the appeals of excluded groups and print and distribute campaign literature to all federal and military employes.
"If we don't have regulations until the end of August," said Ernest Miller of the Salvation Army and the National Coalition for Health and Welfare, "it will be too late to create an effective campaign in September and October." Miller was speaking on behalf of some health and welfare service groups that support the new, more restrictive regulations.
The regulations, to be published in today's Federal Register, would limit participation in the campaign to "private, voluntary charitable agencies that directly provide health and welfare services to human beings."
The regulations implement an executive order issued by President Reagan in February that sought to exclude groups that engage in "political activity or advocacy, lobbying or litigation on behalf of parties other than themselves."
Under the proposed regulations, any organization that devotes more than 15 percent of its expenditures to lobbying or litigation would not qualify.
Critics have charged that the rules are designed to exclude environmental and legal defense organizations, as well as groups that lobby for women and minorities.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed suit on behalf of seven other groups, charging that the rules violate the First Amendment by forcing OPM "to discriminate among groups on the basis of the content of their speech."
A number of groups--including the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Audubon Society--participated in the campaign for the first time last year under a court order that forced OPM to open it to groups that did not directly deliver health and welfare services.
About 120 groups qualified for the campaign, more than twice the previous year's. OPM officials estimate that $98 million will be raised by the time the campaign is over--the largest jump in contributions since 1977. OPM officials also say, however, that the number of participating employes is down, although they could not provide exact figures.
Bob Bothwell, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, called the proposed regulations "really pitiful. They are a blatant attempt by OPM to rewrite the laws that Congress set up about permissible lobbying activities of charitable organizations."
"I would hope that this administration, which has talked so much about private charity, would not for ideological reasons cripple one of our major private charities," Frank said.