Mike Needham
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Every expansion of big government starts with a lofty, often inspiring goal. Politicians and interest groups identify a problem, and in turn, identify a corresponding government solution. Of course, more often than not, those solutions fail – or even worse, cause further harm.

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is one such entity.

In 1974, a bipartisan majority in Congress and President Richard Nixon created the federally funded organization under the auspicious that it would provide legal services to those unable to afford them. Obviously, non-government pro bono services are available. But, for the sake of argument, let us set aside the obvious and focus on the LSC’s record.

A 2010 Government Accountability Office report casts a dim view over the LSC’s grant approval process. Some highlights from the 44-page report:


7 of the 57 (12 percent) renewal grantees’ files had input fields that were BLANK and required information was NOT included;

15 out of 57 (26 percent) of noncompetitive grantees and 6 out of 23 (26 percent) competitive grantees entered data in DIFFERENT parts of the grant application and the data were INCONSISTENT;

3 of the 23 competitive grantees (13 percent) the evaluation data was NOT filled out;

and, along with the continuing nature of several related deficiencies first identified nearly 3 years ago; these are indicative of WEAKNESS in LSC’s overall control environment.

Given this poor track record, it would seem nearly impossible the LCS could ensure taxpayer funds are being used in an appropriate fashion. In fact, the LSC’s use of taxpayer funds has often been dubious; promoting the advancement of big-government priorities as opposed to representing the legal interests of the poor. They’ve sued job creators and lobbied the federal government for the expansion of welfare programs.

In effect, the Legal Services Corporation has become an arm of big-government liberalism. Fortunately, conservatives in Congress are fighting to end the LSC, which has not been reauthorized since 1980. On August 1, Congressman Austin Scott (R-GA) introduced H.R.2774, a bill to repeal the Legal Services Corporation.

Earlier this year, the House rejected an amendment by Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), which would have eliminated funding for the LSC. 170 Republicans and 1 Democrat supported the effort.

Some pundits have come to the conclusion that since the LSC retains bipartisan support in the House (68 Republicans and 191 Democrats), Rep. Scott’s effort is futile. Drawing such a conclusion ignores legislative history and fails to recognize the growing sentiment in America to shrink the size and scope of the federal government.

Conservative policy victories rarely just happen, they are usually the product of long intellectual battles against an entrenched Washington Establishment that finally folds under genuine grassroots and good-government pressure. This is true on issue both large and small.

Look at the Presidio Trust, a federal corporation created by Congress in 1996 to preserve, protect, enhance and manage the Presidio of San Francisco. In 2007, Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offered an amendment to deny funding to the trust on the basis it was merely a local development matter – in essence, an earmark. That vote split House Republicans, 93 to 94.

Fast-forward 4 years, freshman Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY) offered an amendment to roll back funding for the Presidio Trust Fund, which was adopted by the House with near unanimous support among Republicans, 224 to 10. The amendment even enjoyed the support of 15 House Democrats.

In 1980, The Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” described the LSC as follows:

The poor do have legal problems which need solution, and they need lawyers who either work pro bono or who are paid a salary to represent the poor. But a $350 million federal bureaucracy is not needed to provide such services.

It went on to quote the New Republic, which wrote:

The legal services program may be the most extreme example of the paternalism of the American welfare state: denying the poor what they explicitly lack – money – in favor of goods and services the government thinks they should have, in the amount and proportion it deems appropriate.

It took conservatives years to win the fight against earmarks – a symbol of Washington waste and an enabler of big-government. Conservatives must apply the same passion and commitment to the small ball legislative issues. Seemingly innocuous programs, like the LSC, can have a dramatic impact not only on the cost of government, but also the scope of government.

As President Reagan was fond of saying, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'”

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Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.