Muffling the Left

Watchdog Reveals Effort to Gag Anti-Bush Causes

Even after these grillings, Stop AIDS received a letter this June from the CDC objecting to workshops with titles such as, "Oral Sex = Safe Sex?" and "In our Prime: Men for Hire," which promised to cover "seven guidelines for safe and friendly relations with escorts." The government letter threatens a "disallowance or discontinuation of federal funding" if Stop AIDS continues to use language the administration believes promotes sexual activity.

Krochmal says the organization has been careful not to use its federal funding for such workshops, instead relying on the more progressive support of city government. "We know that what it takes to catch the eye of a guy walking down Castro Street 20 years after the movement began may raise the eyebrows of men in Washington, D.C. But it takes a certain kind of method to get our point across," she says.

She called the Bush administration's crackdown on Stop AIDS "about politics, not about public health," because the language it wants quashed has proved effective in luring clients for prevention services.

The fight with Washington has forced Stop AIDS to consult with legal counsel, something many resource-strapped nonprofits worry about having to do. If CDC prevails, Krochmal says, it will add another brick in an overall homophobic agenda she sees building under Bush. From Stop AIDS's troubles to the proposed federal anti-gay marriage legislation, "It's an institutionalizing of policies that continue to devalue the lives of gay and lesbian people in this country," she says.

At the same time the Bush administration is making it harder for some progressive nonprofits to operate, it has bent over backward for those with which it is more ideologically in tune, says Bass. While OMB Watch supports federal funding of faith-based nonprofits, Bass says it is unfair that Bush has granted these groups special exemptions, for instance the ability to discriminate in hiring and substitute religious qualifications for professional ones.

Meanwhile, a December 2002 letter from the federal government to groups dealing with HIV prevention and sex education abroad admonished that "all operating units should ensure that USAID-funded programs and publications reflect appropriately the policies of the Bush administration." Some nonprofits worry that the smallest conflict—for instance over the use of words like "condom" or "abortion" on a website—could give the government an excuse to funnel funds to groups whose views it prefers.

OMB Watch's report also touches on nonprofits' fears about post-September 11 surveillance by law enforcement. A major lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Muslim interest groups last week calls unconstitutional a section of the USA Patriot Act that allows investigators to secretly examine organizations' financial and membership records and even seize them without notice. Such probes need only be minimally linked to a national security investigation. The privacy of nonprofits' staff and clients is not guaranteed, and advocates say the fear of attracting the FBI's notice restricts freedom of expression.

"If this is a pattern that is sustained, then it erodes a key part of our ability to pursue justice," says Bass of the selective policing of nonprofits. Indeed, Stop AIDS's Krochmal says, "We have been told there is a shortlist of organizations that won't be funded next year. It's obviously of great concern to us."

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