Feminists Blocked From Using FDR Library for Social Security Forum

July 7, 2008 - 7:31 PM

(CNSNews.com) - A feminist coalition opposed to President Bush's Social Security reform plan is turning to the U.S. House for help after one of its member groups was denied permission to hold a Social Security forum at a federal building in Hyde Park, N.Y.

The forum was to be held on April 9 at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, named for the Democratic president who signed the original Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935. But the library's director denied the Older Women's League (OWL) permission to use the facility's Wallace Center, citing the roster of planned speakers.

"If you cannot provide at least one speaker who will speak on the features and merits of the (Bush) Administration's plan for Social Security, then I must ask that you find another venue for your program," FDR Library Director Cynthia M. Koch stated in a March 31 letter to Laurie Young, executive director of OWL.

The FDR library is one of ten presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Koch also mentioned her concern that the event might violate the Hatch Act, which restricts the political activities of executive branch employees of the federal government.

"Federal regulations expressly forbid the use of National Archives (or other federal) facilities for activities that may be perceived as being partisan in nature because of the activities' subject matter, sponsors or participants," Koch's letter to Young stated.

"When your event was reserved in the Wallace Center it was clearly understood by OWL that it could not be political in nature. What may not have been political in nature at the time of the booking is certainly political now," Koch wrote.

But Heidi Hartmann, vice-chairman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, which claims OWL as a member, denied that there was any intention to make the forum a political event.

"There were a lot of jumps that were made by the people at the library. They jumped to the conclusion that this is partisan activity and then they somehow applied a rule (Hatch Act) that would seem to apply to themselves, to public usage of the space," Hartmann said.

She added that to her knowledge "there isn't really a requirement for balance in the use of any federal property."

On Tuesday, The NCWO sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the same panel, asking them to investigate "the decision by the National Archives and Records Administration" to deny permission for use of the FDR library.

The NCWO describes itself as "a nonpartisan, nonprofit umbrella organization of groups that collectively represent over ten million women across the United States," but the coalition's agenda is hard-line liberal. It includes not only opposition to the president's Social Security reform plan and his nominees to the federal judiciary, but support for abortion rights, sanctioning of homosexual relationships, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, higher taxes and less defense spending.

Christopher Turman, spokesman for the NCWO, told Cybercast News Service that there were no objections when OWL held a forum on women and Social Security at the FDR library a year ago.

Turman said this year Republican U.S. Reps. Sue Kelly and John Sweeney, both from New York, were invited to the OWL forum, but declined. Democratic U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey did accept the group's invitation.

Despite OWL's invitations for Kelly and Sweeney to attend the forum, Koch was dissatisfied with the planning. She pointed out in her letter that the need for ideological balance at the Social Security forum "was communicated to program planners last week, but no speaker(s) representing the President's plan have been added to the program."

Koch added that "if you are able to make the required changes to your program, we would certainly be happy to make the facility available to your group."

During an interview with Cybercast News Service, Hartmann argued that while the forum might not include political balance, it will contain "content balance."

"It's going to be a balanced view of how women are going to be affected by private accounts. But it's non-partisan. It's not designed to be partisan," Hartmann said.

By late Tuesday afternoon, the NCWO had received no official reply from Reps. Davis or Waxman, but Hartmann said "we hear that there is interest on [Capitol] Hill." There was no word on whether OWL had lined up another location for its Social Security forum.

President Bush's proposal would allow younger workers to direct 4 percentage points of the 12.4 percent payroll tax into personal retirement accounts.

Addressing the subject in Parkersburg, W.Va., on Tuesday, Bush said, "It's time to strengthen and modernize Social Security for future generations with growing assets that you can control, that you call your own, assets that the government can't take away."

A telephone call to the FDR library, seeking comment for this article, was not returned before press time. The list of speakers that OWL had planned for its Social Security forum was not made available as of Tuesday afternoon.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.