An acrimonious game of musical charities, with scores of nonprofit groups vying for a chance to collect some of the estimated $100 million in 1983 federal employe donations, was played out in the Office of Personnel Management's auditorium yesterday before a group of advisory referees who kept changing the rules.
The question before the National Eligibility Committee of the Combined Federal Campaign, an advisory group to OPM Director Donald J. Devine, was which of the 174 individual and seven umbrella-group applicants should be allowed to solicit contributions from 4.7 million civilian and military employes.
The Combined Federal Campaign is the government equivalent of the United Way fund-raising drive. For two years, groups with differing views about charity, politics, labor unions and abortion have turned the campaign into an ideological battleground, fighting their skirmishes before the advisory committee, Devine and the courts.
Yesterday's session did little to resolve the disputes, introducing instead a set of four "categories" into the already tangled thicket of rules and court decisions that determine who's in and who's out.
First the advisers separated the petitioners into those whose purpose was health and welfare (in) and those whose purpose was advocacy (in, but only because of a court ruling that OPM is appealing). Then they subdivided these groups into those that had met financial criteria set out in a presidential executive order (in) and those that had not (out).
The extent of the confusion over these categories showed up in the odyssey of the Moral Majority Fund, a sister organization of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's conservative, Lynchburg-based Moral Majority Inc.
In the morning, advisory committee member Erie Doyle of the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employes recommended approval of the Moral Majority Fund as a health and welfare organization whose finances were in order.
Moe Biller, president of the American Postal Workers Union, objected, and Moral Majority was moved to the advocacy column.
In the afternoon, a representative of the group testified that it did alcohol and drug abuse and abortion counseling, served meals to the handicapped, and made "no litigation or lobbying efforts whatsoever."
So, by a 9-to-0 vote, the Moral Majority Fund was moved to the health-and-welfare, clean-finances category. But that vote remained in effect only 30 seconds, until three committee members realized that meant automatic inclusion and asked for a revote. By a 6-to-3 margin, Moral Majority survived.
Its fate, like those of the other organizations recommended yesterday, now rests with Devine.
Planned Parenthood-World Population, cast as an abortion- and sex-promoting villain by a variety of speakers from religious organizations, did not fare as well. After more than an hour of mixed praise and denunciations--the latter punctuated with photographs of aborted fetuses and claims that Planned Parenthood is anti-Catholic and promotes teen-age pregnancy--the committee voted 7 to 2 to recommend that Devine exclude the group.
Planned Parenthood, which offers family-planning counseling and abortion-referral services in the United States and has scores of affiliates overseas, has been a beneficiary of CFC funds for 15 years.
Last year, Devine allowed it to continue receiving federal employe donations with a grudging statement that, although he abhorred the group's support of the "detestable" practice of abortion, it had met the requirements for the CFC.
Before the committee vote, it seemed that a U.S. District Court order had given Devine little choice but to include Planned Parenthood. But by basing its exclusion on fiscal data instead of the group's purpose, the advisers gave Devine an avenue to exclude the group.
The committee turned thumbs down on Planned Parenthood because it received more than half its budget from federal funds and less than one-fifth from private donations. Bill Hamilton, a spokesman for the group, challenged both contentions yesterday and said the committee auditor had not looked at documents provided by the group.
Under a separate court order, Devine is obligated to include the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and other groups "similarly situated," according to Patrick S. Korten, an OPM official.
However, the advisory committee yesterday indicated its distaste for most groups with the words "legal" or "defense" in their titles--groups that tended to have the closest identification with political causes of the left and right. Almost all were classified as "advocacy groups"--subject to elimination from the campaign if OPM wins its legal battle.
Among these were the Mental Health Law Project, the Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Children's Defense Fund.
In a press statement released yesterday, Devine said he would "rely heavily" on the committee's advice in deciding who would be allowed to benefit from the fund-raising drive. It is slated to start this month.