- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2000

The once powerful, far-left Citizen Action virtually committed suicide in 1996 when it became a key player in the Teamsters' money-laundering scandal. The scandal brought down ex-Teamsters President Ron Carey, led to William Hamilton's recent union corruption conviction and could lead to the downfall of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and Clinton crony Terry McAuliffe. According to court records, Citizen Action took two "donations" of $475,000 and $150,000 and routed $110,000 and $100,000, respectively, back to Mr. Carey's re-election campaign.

But now, according to recent report in the far-left publication In These Times, this former federation of statewide leftist groups is attempting to resuscitate its network under the name U.S. Action.

At a September 1998 meeting, the new group's operatives pitched about 100 leftist leaders. They claimed the new group would "grow beyond the limits of the old Citizen Action and learn from its mistakes." Today, 39 statewide leftist groups have joined only 16 of which came from Citizen Action. But while U.S. Action's shadow covers most of the country, it has not yet reached the all-important state of California. The group proudly announced that there is not a single white male among the top six elected leaders, and for recruiting purposes it has created "representative population councils" for blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, women, gays and lesbians, disabled, youth and senior citizens.

U.S. Action held its founding convention near Chicago in November 1999. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, and Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, both spoke. Both were Citizen Action members who were allegedly "nurtured" into candidates by Citizen Action. Attendees at the founding also included two militant unions: Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), as well as other prominent leftist organizations such as the U.S. Student Association, Midwest Academy and Progressive Action Network. U.S. Action's statewide groups claim 700,000 members, more than 100 full-time staff and combined annual budgets of $15 million to $20 million.

Special interests they are already pushing include increased campaign finance restrictions, a "patient bill of rights" and local minimum wage ordinances. Issues they have already attacked include school vouchers, "corporate farming" and cuts in Social Security and Medicare. They are also preparing two national special interest campaigns: 1) advocating "single-payer" (i.e., government-run) universal health care, and 2) advocating "high-quality public education for every child." They also intend to be active in electoral politics.

The convention also provided an opportunity for many to vent and brood over Citizen Action's debacle. "Citizen Action was not a participatory democracy at all," complained David Desiderato, associate director of Northeast Action. "It was controlled. You couldn't ask questions."

Some criticized Citizen Action for abusing its power, especially in terms of finances. Citizen Action originally raised money from door-to-door canvassing as well as contributions from unions and trial lawyers. But canvassing became less lucrative, and it was "put at the mercy" of its contributors. Reportedly, the Teamsters scandal only exacerbated pre-existing internal tensions and led to massive fallout among contributors. "It shows what happens when you don't have internal democracy," complained John Cameron of Citizen Action of Illinois.

Many of the old guard still strongly defend Citizen Action. But even U.S. Action Executive Director Jeff Blum insisted that the new group would be far more democratic and accountable. Mr. Blum was Citizen Action's transportation lobbyist; he is also currently head of Maryland Citizen Action, and before that he headed Pennsylvania Citizen Action, which he founded in 1979. Mr. Blum said there would be no more of the old budget sleight-of-hand. "I won't do it," Mr. Blum said. "We're trying to make this an organization characterized by learning lessons."

William McNary of Citizen Action of Illinois said U.S. Action must avoid Citizen Action's mistake of becoming a conduit for unions and trial lawyers' money and messages. He said of Citizen Action: "Instead of having a partnership with the people who gave us money, we were looked at as employees." Mr. McNary called for renewed door-to-door fund-raising.

Despite past and possibly continuing internal tensions, U.S. Action is already advancing its socialist agenda. They already are coordinating with SEIU on health care issues. For example during the founding convention, Mr. Blum led a raucous, but under-reported, protest at House Speaker Dennis Hastert's district office. They delivered empty pill bottles and demanded Medicare prescription coverage. One protester said, "Having prescription drugs is not a luxury; it is a God-given right."

SEIU executive board member and former head of Pennsylvania Citizen Action Anna Burger predicted, "This is an organization that's going to make a difference."

Note to liberty-loving Americans: Consider yourselves warned.

Ken Boehm is the chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a union corruption watchdog.

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