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Issues & Insights

Tales of the Deep State: The Many Lives of the Legal Services Corporation

Nick Youngson, Creative Commons

Deep State (noun): The permanent, professional bureaucracy of the U.S. government, specifically those who believe their judgment and continual service makes them better suited to run the country than elected officials or political appointees.”  Jim Hanson, President, Security Studies Group, writing in The Federalist

The Deep State as so defined has recently reared its ugly head in reports of FBI agents openly deceiving judges to enable spying on a presidential campaign – and of embedded Democratic loyalists in the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency, respectively, snitching and “blowing the whistle” on the President.

But a “resistant” Deep State is nothing new — and certainly not confined to law enforcement or the national security apparatus. As demonstrated by this correspondent’s front-row seat – and peripheral role – in exposing one particularly egregious example of the phenomenon 36 years ago.

Back then, President Ronald Reagan – who famously opined that the closest thing to eternal life on earth is a government bureau – took it upon himself to rid American of a particularly troublesome “bureau:” the Legal Services Corporation.

LSC’s intended purpose was to provide basic legal assistance to the poor. Instead, the corporation’s network of grantees became a political arm of the left, pursuing not just ideologically-driven litigation but also lobbying, legislative advocacy and training for boycotts and strikes.

Among its “social justice” causes: welfare rights, coddling criminals, racial preferences, the “sanctuary movement” (sound familiar?), benefits for illegal immigrants, gay rights, abortions for minors without parental consent, even congressional redistricting.

(As an aside: this brand of activism mushroomed during the 1977-1980 LSC chairmanship of one Hillary Rodham.)

No wonder the first seven Reagan budgets sought to zero out LSC. But – as later revealed in a series of Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee hearings (the first prepared with the assistance of a certain youthful subcommittee counsel) and General Accounting Office reports – in the days leading up to Reagan’s swearing-in, LSC officials and grantees joined together to plot a literal “survival campaign.”

The initiative was mapped out in meetings at LSC regional offices, capped by a “training” function in Denver attended by the corporation’s most senior officials. There, presenters advocated, in GAO’s words, a “a policy of resistance (emphasis added) to Reagan administration announced objectives.”

One Alan Houseman, Director of the LSC Research Institute, characterized the purpose of the proposed campaign:

“What is at stake is not solely the survival of the Legal Services program. What is at stake is the survival of many social benefits… that we struggled, since 1965, to make real for poor people…. Those, in the end, are far more important than legal services. Legal services is a tool to get them. Both of those kinds of things, both of those problems – legal services, social benefits, entitlement programs, civil rights – those are what are at stake in this battle.”

To facilitate, per GAO, a “massive nationwide grass roots lobbying effort,” funds were squirreled away in “mirror corporations” and resources and staff diverted in particular to a grantee, the National Legal Aid and Defenders’ Association, to provide “technical assistance” and a “management and leadership project.”

The NLADA’s 1981 annual report brazenly advocated using the funding to finance organizations “linked to the central ideologies of the legal services movement in order to effectively support an informal government in exile.” (emphasis again added)

And a separate management consultant’s report on leveraging the LSC grants, reading like a primer for Deep State militancy, recommended:

  • “Appropriate strategies … to find new ways of working particularly in the areas which are likely to be blocked by LSC legislation or regulation.”
  • “(A) certification process for legal services managers (that) assumes the legal services system will survive the current crisis….”
  • “(L)eadership which … is willing to act outside the bounds of stated authority…” and
  • Support for “informal social networks that… lie outside the boundaries of the formal system, of formal regulation, and of formal organization… (and) are built on shared beliefs and values.”

In hearings probing the “survival campaign,” then-Labor and Human Resources Chairman (and this commentator’s onetime boss) Orrin Hatch found LSC’s “resisters” as untouchable as Alexander Vindman and the Ukraine “whistleblower.”

The Utahn incredulously queried LSC officials installed by President Reagan: “Under existing law, what recourse do you have available to the Corporation to force the NLADA to allow you to monitor the grants it has received from the Corporation? …. Unless you take overt legal action, they’re just thumbing their noses at you…. They’re just telling you to go to hell.”

Response: “That’s correct.”

The campaign, unsurprisingly, succeeded in its goals. LSC funding was not zeroed out, and while cut, was well above its previous levels by the 1990s, when Republicans (temporarily) trimmed it again.

Coda: President Trump’s first three budgets again attempted to eliminate LSC, as it doesn’t serve “an appropriate role for the federal government” because it “provides grant funding for legal assistance in local civil matters.”

It’s still here – and still thumbing its nose at the President. In fact, LSC FY 2020 funding in the recently signed “continuing resolution” stands at $415 million – its highest ever.

Deep State, indeed.

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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

1 comment

  • If you really want to achieve something, name the Senators and Representatives who are facilitating the continuing funding of this, and presumably many other taxpayer funded left wing operations.

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