How would you like to take a trip to California's incomparable Monterey Peninsula, play golf in the company of Arnold Palmer and Craig Stadler, and have your expenses covered by a tax-exempt organization subsidized both by big government and big business?
That is what 21 teen-agers did Labor Day Weekend when they played in the first annual First Tee Open, a pro-am tournament on the Champions Tour (the professional senior golf circuit), held primarily at the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Amy Caruso, communications manager for The First Tee, the 501 (c) (3) group that sponsored the junior golfers, emphasizes that the specific expenses for these teen-agers were covered by funds provided to The First Tee by the Champions Tour, which in turn got them from Wal-Mart, chief sponsor of the tournament. "A portion of Wal-Mart's sponsorship will in turn be allocated to The First Tee via the Champions Tour to cover the expenses of the 21 participants who played in the event," she explained. "Wal-Mart's interest in this event was based on the community and educational involvement of The First Tee and the desire to reach out to children."
But The First Tee also has received $4.5 million in federal funds over the last two fiscal years, and, Caruso says, is asking for another $3 million this year. In fiscal year 2003, Congress earmarked $500,000 for the group through the Justice Department and $1 million through the Department of Education. In fiscal 2004, Congress earmarked another $1 million through Education and $2 million through Justice. The First Tee is now seeking another $2 million from Justice and $1 million from Education.
Even if one demurs on the point that money is fungible -- and gives Wal-Mart stockholders sole credit for underwriting 21 teen-agers at Pebble Beach -- the $4.5 million in federal funds already given to The First Tee raises questions that taxpayers ought to be directing at our political leaders: When the Congressional Budget Office is projecting a $422 billion annual deficit, why is Congress giving any money to a group like this? Where in the Constitution does Congress find the authority to fund golf? Should the federal government force unwilling and sometimes financially strapped taxpayers to support charitable organizations they would not support if allowed a free choice?