Tucson Citizen, May 9, 2000
Interfaith Council Crosses Line Seperating Church, State
By John D. Arnold
It was about two years ago that Pima County Interfaith Council was running out of money the Industrial Areas Foundation had given it. In desperation, PCIC made one last big push to get an infusion of taxpayers’ money to keep its interfaith political campaign intact.
Fortunately for PCIC, both the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Tucson City Council were intimidated and forked over hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars for PCIC’s Job Path, a training program for the poor, even though PCIC had no prior experience.
Now, two years later, PCIC announces it is joining the Arizona Interfaith Network, which in reality interfaith councils formed themselves to circumvent lobbying laws for publicly funded institutions. PCIC’s intention is to carry forth its campaign of harassment and intimidation of public officials to the state level.
PCIC conveniently uses the poor who are dependent on Job Path’s services, stipends and promises to be PCIC’s storm troopers at their rallies, giving the appearance they truly represent the poor.
How about the over 300 agencies in the United Way Information and Referral Directory that have been doing advocacy for decades that would never abuse their clients by parading them in public?
As for PCIC’s announcement of its monumental expansion effort, it is legitimate to ask who is paying for it? In Omaha, Neb., one of the Industrial Areas Foundation’s other affiliates has had the IRS investigating that group and the churches that support them, calling into question their tax-exempt status due to their intensive lobbying activities.
So, where has the some $500,000 of taxpayers’ money gone that PCIC lobbied for fiercely from Pima County and the City of Tucson, and how is PCIC made accountable?
Was the taxpayers’ money spent for what PCIC proposed? Where are the financial audits? Did it meet its contract on a timely basis? Was it cost effective? Could other established job training agencies have done it better? Was it granted according to and carried out by government procurement procedures?
These questions are not unreasonable, as all other contracted public funded agencies must be accountable in this way Also, what assurances do we have that these funds are not being diverted for PCIC’s political and lobbying efforts?
It is time now for local governments that have granted so much of our social resources, at the expense of other ongoing efforts, to find out where the money went. If PCIC has not fulfilled the public trust in its funding, then it should be cut off immediately as any other contracted entity in default.
Also, the 50 churches that PCIC claims supports it also need to hold PCIC accountable because it is their tax-exempt status that could be in jeopardy. In Colorado, voters attempted to revoke the churches’ tax-exempt status in part as a backlash to the interfaith movement's heavy-handed lobbying tactics.
Furthermore, there is a concern nationally that the interfaith movement’s grab on public funds and lobbying crosses the line of separation of church and state, which is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
PCIC should tap the resources of the churches they say support them, whose tax-free assets are in the billions nationwide far more than our government's. With church funds, PCIC could pay for its activities and help the poor, which the church is mandated to do in Luke 12:33 and 34. “Sell what you have and give alms to the poor.”
Finally, it would be wise for government and the churches to turn the tables on PCIC and make it “accountable,’’ and in so doing, safeguard their interests and those of their constituents. If not, both may get what they bargained for and in turn be themselves held accountable, by the public and by their “higher power."
John D. Arnold is chief executive officer of Project PPEP (Portable Practical Educational Preparation)