- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

The D.C. government plans to dole out a total of $1 million in grants to several groups for a public relations campaign on D.C. statehood, despite a federal law barring use of city or federal funds for statehood lobbying.

Grant supporters say the law against lobbying does not apply because the money is to be used for “education.” They say the education grant is a creative way to circumvent federal guidelines.

“Our challenge is to educate more people so that we can activate them,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, which will receive $500,000 from the city. “The prohibition in the D.C. appropriations bill is on lobbying activities, and this is not lobbying. This is education.”

Our Nation’s Capital (ONC) will receive $300,000 and the League of Women Voters (LWV) of the District of Columbia will receive $200,000 for the public relations campaign.

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.”

Officials with the statehood groups said their campaign does not qualify as lobbying, as defined by the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS defines lobbying as “attempts to influence legislation through communication with any member or employee of a legislative body … [or] an attempt to affect the opinions of the general public or a segment of the public.”

Because the organizations’ educational efforts will focus on the fact that the District does not have a vote in Congress and not on specific legislation, they will not violate the law, group officials said.

“Lobbying has a very specific definition,” D.C. Vote spokesman Kevin Kiger said. “Education is not included in that. We’re not going to be doing anything close to seeking support of pending legislation. We have every right to educate people about D.C.’s unique relationship with the Congress.”

Officials with the three organizations said they will work together to make sure the funds are used effectively.

ONC President Don Dakin said his group will focus on how not having a vote in Congress hurts the District.

“Our role will be to show that because we don’t have the vote the District does not have the capacity to fund the infrastructure it has,” he said.

D.C. Vote plans to run a national radio advertisement campaign and carry out other advertising plans. LWV officials said they will focus on the inequality of the District’s nonvoting status.

All three groups said that, while the campaign is not considered lobbying, they hope their efforts cause people to do something about the issue.

“We assume that as we educate people, they will become active,” Mr. Kiger said. “If by educating people they choose to take action — whether it’s support of legislation, or for them to call their congressman — that really is a line we’re not concerned about.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, said the city is not violating federal law because the requirements for the grant stipulate that the money not be used to lobby.

“The requirements to compete for the grants were written very carefully to specifically bar lobbying,” she said. “The grant is confined to purely educational and informational activities.”

D.C. officials said the grant money will come out of the fiscal 2006 budget.

Mrs. Norton and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, have sponsored the D.C. Fairness in Representation Act, which is making its way through Congress.

The legislation would give the District, which is historically Democratic, a vote in Congress and allow Utah, which is historically Republican, an extra vote to account for its recent population growth.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the District is defined as a federal jurisdiction.

Although a constitutional amendment would not be needed to bestow D.C. statehood, the process would require action by Congress and Maryland and a vote by city residents.

It also would require that the District not depend on the federal government for special funding so that it would not become a special burden to Congress if it were to become a state.

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