On January 6, 2009, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, an influential liberal activist group, sent a letter to members of Congress calling for the abolition of restrictions on LSC-funded political activism.
In 1996, Congress prohibited LSC-funded organizations from engaging in ideologically-motivated lawsuits. Congress took this action in response to legal services lawyers systematically using taxpayer money to pursue a liberal political agenda that had nothing to do with the LSC’s ostensible mission of assisting the poor with their civil legal needs. These restrictions included bans on representing undocumented aliens, abortion-related litigation, prisoner advocacy, class action suits, challenges to welfare reform, and congressional redistricting cases.
The restrictions have had a noticeable effect in reducing LSC-funded activism. However, on several occasions grantees were found to have violated the restrictions. For example, in 2008 the LSC inspector general subpoenaed client records from California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) to determine if it violated the restriction on providing legal aid to undocumented aliens. The inspector general was relying upon information provided by a former CRLA attorney who stated that “there was a clear feeling among certain CRLA staff that anyone unwilling to serve undocumented persons is a bad person.”
Given the obvious ideological nature of legal services lawyers, if Congress removes or weakens the restrictions on political advocacy, these lawyers will most certainly unleash a raft of ideologically-motivated litigation.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights calls on Congress to remove these restrictions through a rider on the next Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill. The Leadership Conference especially focuses on ending the restriction that extends the restriction on LSC funds to non-LSC funds. All LSC grantees, 501(c)3 nonprofits, receive funding from other sources such as state governments and private foundations. Without a restriction on the use of non-LSC funds, it would be virtually impossible to enforce the restrictions since LSC money is commingled with non-LSC money.