Challenging the Disinformation/Misinformation Campaign

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By George Weigel

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During the House and Senate debates on NED’S future, a number of misconceptions about the Endowment’s program and procedures (some of them recycled from previous anti-NED campaigns) came to the fore:

  • NED spends taxpayer money with little or no congressional or administration oversight.

False. NED’S appropriation goes through four annual congressional subcommittee hearings, and NED staff consult regularly with the members of those subcommittees. Moreover, NED’S annual report to the Administration and the Congress lists all grants made, on a country-by-country basis. NED’S annual budget and its management procedures are reviewed by both the Office of Management and Budget and an independent auditor; moreover, NED’S books are periodically audited by the General Accounting Office. Every proposal that is ready for review by the NED board of directors is submitted to both the State Department and the United States Information Agency for comments. NED’S records are available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.

  • NED makes foreign policy independent of the United States government.

False. NED takes no position on foreign policy questions; its sole purpose is to support democratic movements and activists abroad when indigenous institutions need such assistance. NED has worked under three administrations, two Republican and one Democratic; neither the Reagan nor the Bush nor the Clinton administration has ever charged the Endowment with foreign-policy free-lancing. The charge is a canard.

  • NED interferes with the internal politics of established democracies.

False. NED has not worked, and does not work, in established democracies. (It did sup port exiled dissident organizations housed in western European countries during the Cold War; but this had nothing to do with the domestic politics of the host countries.) As de tailed above, NED funds a range of activities in new democracies, precisely in order to support the difficult process of democratic transition and consolidation. NED’S purpose is not to influence the policies of a new democracy but to strengthen the democratic process in it.

  • NED funded the opposition to Costa Rican president Oscar Arias.

False. Here is the disinformation campaign at its most mendacious. In the mid-1980s, IRI supported a Costa Rican think tank, one member of whose board of directors later became a candidate for president; this project was discontinued in 1989. In 1987, President Arias himself had this to say to the Endowment:

I offer the National Endowment for Democracy and all those involved in its lofty purposes all of my support and solidarity…. We are with you, hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, in the struggle for the preservation of the values of dignity and democracy which make nations great.

  • NED took sides and singled out one party for support in the 1990 Czechoslovak elections.

False. NED provided support for Civic Forum, the umbrella coalition that had carried off the Velvet Revolution of November-December 1989. Following the 1990 election. Civic Forum split into several parties, and NED-funded equipment was distributed among them.

  • NED isn’t needed; the Agency for Inter national Development and the USIA operate adequate democratic-support programs.

False. For all the reasons cited above and more, NED is a uniquely effective venture. Its non-governmental status gives it special lever age in difficult situations; its record is highly respected throughout the world; it can respond quickly to rapid changes in situations; it is not susceptible to political manipulation here at home; it is more cost-effective, more creative, and more flexible than the mega-agencies.

  • NED management practices cannot be trusted.

False. A 1991 GAO report raised a number of management, record-keeping, and auditing questions. All of these have been addressed thoroughly by the NED board and staff, as evidenced by GAO’s subsequent favorable response to NED’S new procedures. Any reasonable observer can understand that meticulous record-keeping of the sort we are used to cannot always be expected of Third World grassroots groups. It could hardly have been required when Solidarity leaders were operating underground in Poland. Given the range of grants, the difficult circumstances in which many grantees work, and the universal problems of human nature, NED grants have been remarkably free of scandal, fraud, and abuse. This is a testimony to the careful oversight of the NED board and the integrity of the NED staff. People who charge NED with operating a mismanaged slush fund are either malicious or willfully ignorant.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.