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2005 blog


Keeping up with Jewish officeholders

Sens. Lautenberg, Levin, other Democrats contend
Social Security Administration illegally lobbying
,  Jan. 30, 2005

Eight U.S. Senators—including Jewish community members Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Carl Levin of Michigan—have accused the Social Security Administration of violating laws against spending taxpayer money to lobby Congress in furtherance of President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security.

Joining Lautenberg and Levin in a call for an investigation by U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, were Senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

The senators quoted federal law 18 U.S.C.§ 1913, which states: "No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or any official of any government, to favor, adopt or oppose, by a vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy or appropriation, whether before or after the introduction of any bill, measure, or resolution proposing such legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation."

In a Jan. 26 letter to Walker, the senators quoted a Jan. 3 email from White House Deputy Political Director Paul Wehner to allies that "We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact: right now we are on an unsustainable course. That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the pre-condition to authentic reform."

The senators contended that in carrying out Wehner's plan, the Social Security Administration produced a program to target "all audiences" with the following messages: 1) "In order for Social Security to be there for future generations, necessary reforms must take place." 2) "We must address Social Security's long term solvency issues now." 3)"The sooner changes are made, the more time people will have to adjust to the changes."

They added that "the tactical plan calls for this message to be delivered to the public through speeches, seminars, public events, radio, TV, newspapers, SSA publications, employer publications and special interest publications. The plan directs SSA staff to deliver the message at 'non-traditional' locations to educate people about the current Social Security system, such as outreach events at farmer's markets, big box retail stores, etc."

The message concerning the need to reform the system was included in "Your Social Security Statement," a mailing to 140 million Americans that includes "unique earnings data personally compiled for the recipient," the senators said. "Because of the extremely broad reach and impact of this document, it deserves the highest level of scrutiny of its content. The content of the 'Statement' is extremely problematic, as it contains messages intended to further the grassroots lobbying strategy articulated above."

They cited a statement attributed to Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhardt in the mailing that stated that the "Social Security System is facing serous future financial problems and action is needed to make sure the system is sound when today's younger workers are ready for retirement." Further, they said, Barnhardt stated: "We will need to resolve these issues to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protection for future generations as it has done in the past.."

While such statements don't explicitly urge readers to contact Congress, "we believe the tactics outline above violate these laws while carefully avoiding the well-known 'magic words,'" the senators wrote. 

"When you consider that the SSA Statement is sent to 140 million Americans, it only takes a small percentage of that number to generate massive grassroots activity," they said.

They concluded with a request that Walker "begin a legal inquiry and seek production of documents from the SSA."         
Donald H. Harrison