- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cashing in

President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package has been a bonanza for Washington-based special interest groups, like the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), AARP and a fund for the Service Employees International Union.

The NCLR snagged $156,620 in stimulus cash, and AARP benefited from a whopping $18,176,224, according to the government.

The Washington Times found capital-based organizations cashing in on the funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) also include: Georgetown University ($14,807,804), the Service Employees International Union Education and Support Fund ($265,136), the Lockheed Martin Aspen Systems Corp. ($1,866,582), the Urban Institute ($1,443,178), National Public Radio ($50,000), the National Building Museum ($50,000), the Shakespeare Theatre ($50,000) and the Washington Chorus Inc. ($50,000).

SEIU spokeswoman Mary Ringuette told The Washington Times that the $265,136 for the SEIU Education and Support Fund, a separate legal entity from the SEIU, will pay for 1.5 staff members to educate workers about H1N1 infection control precautions under a Hazardous Waste Worker Training Program and obtain other supplies.

“Under the ARRA supplement, we propose to use funds to pay salary and travel expenses for one and one half staff to expand our training with a focus on educating health care workers about H1N1 infection control precautions to better protect themselves and their patients,” she said in an e-mail.

“So far we have hired the half time person and are on the cusp of hiring the fulltime person. Additional funds will be used to procure needed replacement training equipment and supplies for our emergency response operations level confined spaces training for highway maintenance and wastewater treatment workers.”

AARP and NCLR did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cash trackers

The stimulus tracking Web site Recovery.gov has already come under fire this week for listing up to 440 nonexistent congressional districts consuming more than $6 billion in stimulus funding, and now several government watchdogs are tracking down where that money went.

One of them is Matt Purple, a former intern with The Washington Times, who documented some of the D.C. stimulus dollars are being used to boost special interests at Watchdog.org.

He highlighted money going to immigrant advocacy groups and other organizations taxpayers may object to funding, such as churches. Catholic University of America received more than $2 million, Mr. Purple found.

Watchdog.org is a project of the Franklin Center for Government Integrity and Policy a nonprofit dedicated to aggregating and highlighting reporting from state and local journalists to promote government transparency.

Franklin Center President Jason Stverak said his team decided to start looking into the bad congressional districts and stimulus spending after seeing reports from New Mexico about it. Watchdog.org compiled a 15-page report documenting the “phantom districts” that is available on their Web site.

“We look at government and focus on transparency to provide citizens and taxpayers the information they need to make better decisions,” he said.

His organization, headquartered in North Dakota, was created this year and Watchdog.org went live in September.

Border hack

An immigration rights activist has created a tool to help those crossing the border illegally avoid border agents and find water.

Tech whiz Ricardo Dominguez, a known supporter of southern Mexico’s leftist Zapatista rebels, is bragging about his Transborder Immigrant Tool, which can be attached to a cheap Motorola phone to help people navigate rugged terrain and enter the United States.

“We looked at the Motorola i455 cell phone, which is under $30, available even cheaper on eBay, and includes a free GPS applet,” he told Vice magazine. “We were able to crack it and create a simple compasslike navigation system. We were also able to add other information, like where to find water left by the Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centers that will wrap your feet, how far you are from the highway - things to make the application really benefit individuals who are crossing the border.”

Mr. Dominguez is a professor at the University of California in San Diego. He thinks using technology in this fashion is an act of civil disobedience and leads a group called Electronic Civil Disobedience.

The EDC Web site credits him for creating “a program that allows an activist group to slow any Web site to a halt by flooding it with requests, a form of protest known as a virtual sit-in.” He says he has tested this method to overload government Web sites, including the Pentagon’s.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@washington times.com.

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