Free Trade, Lobbying, and Grants

Here’s a not-so-oldie—but definitely a goodie.

You might recall that six Republican Congressmen wrote the IRS Inspector General in April asking for an investigation into whether HSUS’s lobbying activity is permissible under the rules for nonprofits. It turns out that this isn’t the only time that HSUS has run afoul of Congressmen.

In 2005, a group of 14 Democratic Congressmen wrote the Government Accountability Office’s Comptroller General demanding an investigation into a $500,000 grant paid from USAID (a government agency) to the Humane Society of the United States. According to their letter, the grant money may have funded illegal lobbying in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Here’s how it allegedly went down: USAID gave $500,000 to HSUS in October, 2003. Humane Society International used the money to open an office in Costa Rica called the Global Alliance for Humane Sustainable Development. Later, the head of HSI testified in favor of CAFTA in front of the Senate, and the Global Alliance lobbied in favor of CAFTA in early 2005.

The problem is that it’s illegal for government funds to be used to lobby the government. But these Congressmen alleged that the $500,000 grant money "ultimately funded a letter written to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in support of CAFTA."

What raised eyebrows was that HSUS had previously opposed major free-trade legislation, including NAFTA and normalization of trade relations with China. In fact, according to the papers of the late former HSUS board member Amy Freeman Lee, HSUS “work[ed] closely with … The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth” to water down NAFTA—especially concerning animal-related federal laws that they thought NAFTA might supersede.

What happened from NAFTA to CAFTA? Did HSUS’s leaders have a change of heart? Or did they engage in a cynical political move by backing up a bill that was due for a close vote? (This is Washington, after all—it’s hard to be too cynical.)

These 14 Democrats smelled something rotten. To our knowledge, nothing improper was ever found to have occurred. The GAO told us that it "did not issue an opinion concerning this matter. GAO was unable to develop any information regarding these allegations." Still, it goes to show that skepticism of HSUS can be a bipartisan issue.