The CDC is subsidizing left-wing activist groups

Jeff Stier Senior Fellow, National Center for Public Policy Research
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It is no secret that the government wants to change how we live. Nanny-state officials want people to exercise more, stop drinking soda and stop using tobacco. But few people are familiar with an Obama administration program that gives grants to activist organizations that support unpopular nanny-state laws.

I wouldn’t have known about this multimillion-dollar grant program if I hadn’t followed @lgbttobacco on Twitter, and you may not have known there is a National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Tobacco Control Network funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) if you hadn’t read this article.

Last week, @lgbttobacco directed their followers to a CDC conference call meant to give participants guidance on “Community Transformation Grant” submissions, due June 6th. I took the opportunity to listen in. What I learned shocked me.

The grants, funded through Obamacare, break new ground in the administration’s attempt to build political support for radical legislation.

Until recently, the federal government attempted to influence local policies only by handing out grants with strings attached. For instance, federal highway dollars were only available to states adhering to the federally mandated drinking age. But why stop there? Now, with the explicit approval of Congress, the Obama administration will be handing out cash to groups the CDC believes will help advance its political mission.

In the CDC conference call last week, officials explained that they’ll be giving grants to community-based non-profits and local government agencies to “build their capacity” to implement policy changes at the local level.

For example, under its new authority to regulate tobacco, the Food and Drug Administration is considering banning menthol cigarettes, the cigarette of choice for not only the African-American community but, yes, the LGBT community. Banning menthol cigarettes, or any cigarettes for that matter, would certainly benefit public health, but it might not be good politics, since menthol smokers would be upset if menthols were banned. That’s where the Community Transformation Grants come in. The CDC can hand out grants to groups that are working to build community support for a potential ban. That money can be used for community organizers to rent office space, expand their staffs, take polls, and buy ads on television, radio and in local papers to support the FDA’s ban. (No wonder local media has been doing puff pieces on the CDC grants!)

This is not the first time the CDC is offering grants to advance its agenda. Last year, the agency handed out “Communities Putting Prevention to Work Grants” (CPPW), also as a way to influence local policies. CPPW is a powerhouse program that allows the agency to reach its tentacles into all levels of local governments like never before.

CPPW dollars aren’t being used only to fund questionable programs, like giving free “incentive refrigerators” to convenience store owners; they are being used to promote controversial policy changes not even endorsed by Congress. Boston has used CPPW dollars to ban the sale and promotion of soda from municipal buildings, while New York City just implemented a ban on smoking in parks and on beaches. If last year’s CPPW grants are any guide, the CDC will use the Community Transformation Grants to promote similar unpopular policies.

Because the dollars are earmarked for general capacity building, rather than to actually promote or advance a particular piece of legislation, the CDC claims not to run afoul of the law against federal dollars being used for lobbying. But, they claim, they are free to build organizations that will do the lobbying on their own dime.

The CDC doesn’t make secret that they are trying to change policies at the local level. They specifically call for grant applications that would advance both “capacity-building” for and “implementation” of policy changes, focusing on “tobacco-free living, active living and healthful eating.”

Further, grants will be distributed for strategies “associated with specific measures to achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups.” That they are targeting “all groups” rather than citizens gives you a sense of the identity politics at play.

Worst of all, there’s little evidence that this reckless spending will make any individuals healthier. But one thing is sure: it will fatten up the budgets of groups that support this administration’s most radical initiatives.

Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division. Follow him at @JeffAStier on Twitter.