- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

As Congress raced to establish the Department of Homeland Security last month, liberals and McCainiacs were up in arms over several last-minute provisions they deemed special-interest sops. One of those was a protection that shielded the vaccine industry from big-money class-action suits.
There's a good reason for this much-needed provision. The language was a clarification of a 1986 law that established the National Vaccine Industry Compensation Fund. Authored by Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Henry Waxman, that legislation sought to end the class-action lawsuits of the early 1980s that had bankrupted at least ten vaccine companies. Recognizing that there was a compelling public interest in keeping the remaining four afloat, the lawmakers established the fund and capped damages at $250,000 for those who suffered an adverse reaction from a vaccine.
Wily trial lawyers have since found ways around that law to once again sue vaccine companies, and if successful, the awards could very well bankrupt the remaining companies. Given the real threat of biological terrorism on American soil, that wouldn't be good for anyone.
But liberals smelled a rat. Drug company Eli Lilly had long sought the clarification, and TomPaine.com, a left-wing Internet publication, promised $10,000 to whomever could conclusively document how the provision found its way into the bill. On December 12, TomPaine.com got its answer. "I did it," House Majority Leader Dick Armey said on a CBS newscast. "I'm proud of it."
Now Mr. Armey has asked TomPaine.com to send the reward to the Cornerstone Community School, a nonprofit private school in Washington for disadvantaged children. But the Web site is balking and has now issued a clarification. "What TomPaine.com is looking for is THE PERSON WHO *ASKED* ARMEY to ALLOW it to happen," it says in characteristic feverishness, braying that "Public officials who work secret deals like this are cowards," and that "democracy requires accountability."
Since TomPaine.com brings up the subject of accountability, it's worth noting that the organization has its own issues regarding ownership. According to its Web site and filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the publication is wholly bankrolled to the tune of $2 million by the Florence Fund, a tax-exempt organization whose purpose is "to invigorate public debate by helping public interest groups put their messages and work products before larger audiences or target audiences more deeply." Of particular interest to the Florence Fund is "the role of money in politics." But what's the role of money in the organization itself?
In its initial tax filings with the IRS in 1999, the Florence Fund claimed over $6.25 million in pledged money. The fund did not (and was not required to) disclose the source of these pledges, but it represented to the IRS that it expected the bulk of its money to come from diverse sources.
That's an important representation, because it distinguishes whether a non-profit is classified generally as a private foundation or a public charity. In claiming to be the latter, the Florence Fund maintains that it is funded by a broad swathe of like-minded folks, and as such enjoys increased tax exemptions, fewer lobbying prohibitions, and most importantly for TomPaine.com the public perception of principled independence.
But that's an independence the Florence Fund hasn't achieved. According to IRS filings, at most, just four percent of the group's money comes from "the general public." The rest $6 million comes from the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, a major liberal foundation presided over by the sanctimonious Bill Moyers. (The Florence Fund itself is run by his son, John Moyers.) Indeed, in 2000, the most recent tax filing immediately available, just $21,000 came from "direct public support."
Aside from its questionable tax status, there are a number of smaller instances of Florence Fund hypocrisy. First, while bemoaning generally the "cowardice" of lobbying and wringing its hands over special-interest politics, the Florence Fund spent more than $150,000 itself in 2000 in "direct lobbying," defined as "expenditures to influence a legislative body." Then, too, there are further undisclosed ties to organizations that advanced the Eli Lilly whodunnit, such as an article in the current issue of the left-wing American Prospect. Robert Kuttner, the magazine's editor, sits on the board of directors of the Florence Fund. His money-pit publication also receives substantial support from the parent Schumann Foundation $2 million in 2001, alone.
Now, we're certainly not saying that the Florence Fund is doing anything criminal. But while claiming to be a public charity, it is in fact receiving nearly all of its financial support from the Schumann Foundation. Before the Florence Fund and its various entities accuse others in the public square of shady dealings, they might wish to invite the IRS to re-examine the organization's own tax-exempt designation. In the interest of good governance, of course.

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