- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Members of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees D.C. spending yesterday said they think it is illegal for the District to offer a $1 million grant for a public relations campaign on voting rights.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican, told D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi during a morning hearing yesterday that the grant violates a federal law against lobbying.

D.C. officials have said the grant will be used for “education,” thus circumventing the law.

“I had the opportunity to caution them that lobbying is not allowed,” Mr. Tiahrt said yesterday afternoon. “I believe that what the District is trying to do, and it’s very clear that people who are advocating for this money tend to do, is spend this money on trying to develop statehood, and I believe that this is along the lines of lobbying.”

The federal D.C. Appropriations Act says the District cannot use federal or local funds to lobby for “statehood … or voting representation in Congress for the District of Columbia.”

D.C. officials announced Wednesday that they will give $500,000 to D.C. Vote, $300,000 to Our Nation’s Capital and $200,000 to the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia to educate city residents about voting rights.

Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Knollenberg, Michigan Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, said his office will investigate whether the grant violates the law.

“This is an issue that the committee is watching,” Miss Hing said. “We will be keeping a close eye on it.”

Grant supporters said they are not violating the law and that the theme of the public relations campaign has nothing to do with statehood for the District. It focuses on the District’s receiving a vote in Congress, they said.

“There is no lobbying going on with this grant, so there’s not really any confusion, and no one mentions statehood,” D.C. Vote spokesman Kevin Kiger said. “It’s not going around the lobbying [rule], it’s not lobbying. There’s a great deal of activities that fall very short of lobbying. This is one of them.”

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, and Mrs. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said that regardless of the grant’s use, the federal law does not apply to this situation because no federal dollars will be used.

Officials with Mr. Gandhi’s office said the District can proceed with the grant if the mayor’s office can prove that its funds come from city taxes and fines, not federal payouts.

But Mr. Tiahrt said that because Congress has final approval of the District’s budget, all dollars spent by the city are considered federal.

“Certainly there’s a difference in the deposit slip, but past that [there is not],” he said. “You can spend money from what you receive from the federal government as well as parking tickets, but it’s hard to distinguish beyond that deposit slip.”

Mr. Tiahrt said the District could face consequences from Congress if it takes further action on the grant.

“I think they were put on notice today that something would happen if they pursue this,” he said. “My understanding is that … they seem to be taking an education stance and achieving the same goal as lobbying.”

It was not clear which action federal officials could take. The grant money will come from the fiscal 2006 budget, which Congress approved last year.

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