Hypocrisy Watch: Congress Expands Opportunity for Self-Dealing While Claiming Historic Progress on Government Ethics

Washington, D.C.At the very time Senators were congratulating themselves for passing what they termed “the most sweeping ethics reform in history,” they approved a series of “national heritage area” bills that significantly increase the potential for self-dealing and corruption, says the National Center for Public Policy Research. 

In response, The National Center for Public Policy Research brought together 114 policy groups, grassroots leaders, local government officials, sportsmen groups, civil rights organizations, property rights advocates, farmers, ranchers, and individuals to call on Congress not to support the creation of additional national heritage areas or federal funding for heritage area management entities, support groups, or groups that lobby for or advocate the creation of new heritage areas.

The letter is being delivered to the House and Senate leadership and the leadership and membership of the respective natural resource committees.

Among the letter’s signers are the National Taxpayers Union, the 60 Plus Association, American Family Association, FreedomWorks, the Family Research Council, Partnership for the West, Gun Owners of America, two county supervisors, two mayors, eight aldermen, one city councilman and over 90 others.

National heritage areas are creations of Congress in which special interest groups, whose work at times has been funded through secret Congressional earmarks, team up with the National Park Service to influence decisions over local land use previously made exclusively by elected local governments and private landowners. 

“If the investigations into earmarking abuse tell us anything, it is that we need greater accountability, not less.  National heritage areas push us toward less government accountability,” said David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research.  “Committees composed of unelected and unaccountable individuals – some of whom have a financial stake in local land use decisions – are given substantial influence over these very decisions through national heritage area designations.  If you think power corrupts elected officials, just wait and see what it does to unelected ones.”

Dr. Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation has revealed another way special interests can use national heritage areas inappropriately.  He describes how a federally-funded partnership seeking Congressional authority to manage a proposed new heritage area to cover parts of four eastern states is apparently planning to use its management authority, if granted by Congress, to give itself a “near monopoly on real estate development opportunities” within the proposed heritage area.  Such a monopoly presumably would be immensely profitable for this select group of politically-connected individuals.

“National heritage areas corrupt the principle of representative government,” the coalition letter warns, “by giving unelected, unaccountable special interests the authority to develop land management plans and federal money with which to finance their efforts.”

“National heritage areas are nothing more than government sanctioned looting of private property rights, and in many instances, minorities and lower income folks bear the biggest brunt of this theft,” said Deneen Borelli, Fellow with the Project 21 black leadership network.  “Property rights, the hallmark of liberty, are being eroded by special interest groups and their government allies who promote national heritage areas.”

The letter also thanks Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) for his “leadership on this important issue.”

“National heritage areas drive a federally-funded, special interest wedge between citizens and their local government,” said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for The National Center for Public Policy Research.  “The federal government should not be forcing taxpayers in one state to pay for special interest lobbying in another.”

To view the letter, go to www.nationalcenter.org/NHACoalitionLetter0907.pdf.

To read what others are saying about national heritage areas, go to www.nationalcenter.org/HeritageAreaQuotes0907.pdf.

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation based in Washington, D.C.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.