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    FROM 'HERO' TO 'ZERO,' TITLES DELUGE LEGISLATORS

    BY ALAN BJERGA
    01/28/2002
    by ALAN BJERGA on 1/28/02.

    WASHINGTON - Rep. Todd Tiahrt is a "Super Friend."

    Sen. Sam Brownback is a "Guardian of Small Business."

    Rep. Jim Ryun is a "Hero of the Taxpayer."

    These are only a few of the thousands of titles and awards that special interest groups shower on lawmakers each year to show their appreciation for the lawmakers' support.

    "I appreciate the recognition of my work for seniors," said Tiahrt, R-Goddard, of the title bestowed upon him by the 60 Plus Association, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. And Tiahrt isn't shy about claiming his "Super Friend" status - it appears on his Web site and has appeared in campaign literature.

    Tiahrt isn't only a Super Friend. He's also a "Champion of Private Property Rights" and a "Taxpayer's Hero." Just ask the American Land Rights Association and the Citizens Against Government Waste.

    The awards are "definitely a part of the Washington process," Tiahrt said.

    What is important for voters to know about these awards, however, isn't that the legislator wins them, but why.

    The 60 Plus Association, for example, is the conservative counterpart to the AARP, the nation's largest senior group. Tiahrt is a "Super Friend" in part because he supports privatizing Social Security, which many seniors oppose.

    Voters "have to know where an award's coming from before they decide what to think about it," said James Martin, president of the 60 Plus Association.

    But for voters who do know, recognition by a group can clue them in on who to work and vote for - and that grassroots appeal gives award-giving interest groups influence that sometimes reaches far beyond their numbers.

    "We wouldn't do it if it didn't help us," Martin said.

    Giving recognition

    The groups that honor members of Congress range from heavy hitters like the AARP and the National Rifle Association to two-guys-and-a-fax-machine operatio ns that exist mainly to compile voter scorecards and cue activists on who's voting for what.

    The American Land Rights Association is among the latter.

    Chuck Cushman, association president, works from a small office in Battle Ground, Wash. The association pushes for more access to federal lands and environmental deregulation. It's often at odds with Democratic congressmen and administrations, and it gave Tiahrt his "Champion" tag.

    The group has a shoestring budget and makes no political contributions. But it has a 110,000-name mailing list, and 31,000 fax numbers and 15,000 e-mail addresses of lawmakers, property-rights activists and media members. When a vote on property rights is up on Capitol Hill, people on those lists all know that the association is watching.

    To become a "Champion of Private Property Rights," you have to vote with the group at least 75 percent of the time, Cushman said. Award winners get a certificate and the right to publicize the award.

    "It's a nice deal," Cushman said. "We have a ceremony in Washington, and most people who win show up. It lets them know we appreciate what they're doing."

    The group also presents a "tongue-in-cheek" award -"Enemy of Private Property
    Rights"- for people who vote with the group less than 25 percent of the time, Cushman said. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa, qualified for that honor last year, he said.

    "Nobody shows up for that award," Cushman said.

    Getting influence

    Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said a group's clout can sometimes even change a lawmaker's vote.

    His long-established Washington, D.C., group attacks pork-barrel spending. It 's known for its annual "Pig Book," detailing wasteful government projects.

    The group's top award, to lawmakers who vote with the group 80 percent of the time or more, is the "Taxpayer's Hero." Lawmakers who never vote with the group are "Taxpayer Zeros."

    The awards are given annually, and recognition varies from year to year. The last time the awards were given, for example, Tiahrt and Sen. Sam Brownbac k qualified for Hero status.

    But fellow Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts' rating fell a notch. He still was named a "Taxpayer's Friend," but is no longer a hero to Citizens Against Government Waste.

    Schatz doesn't claim to be a Washington insider, yet he said legislators will call him before a vote and see whether his group is rating it.

    "No doubt, I've changed votes," he said. "That's what an advocacy group does. "

    Citizens Against Government Waste has nationwide membership, including 11,000 members in Kansas.

    Schatz emphasized that his group doesn't endorse candidates, nor does it contribute money. But the scorecards make it clear to members which congress men they should support.

    "Candidates who want to say they're tough on taxes have to deal with our ratings," he said.

    Tiahrt said he doesn't consider scorecard ratings or group endorsements when he votes, though he appreciates the credit he gets from conservative groups and uses their endorsements - in part to deflect criticism from other groups that give him low ratings, he said.

    "Some groups hammer me," like the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. That group, which promotes prescription coverage for seniors, is opposed to privatizing Social Security and often gives Democrats higher ratings.

    It gave Tiahrt a score of 33 out of 100 in the last congressional session. In contrast, Moore received an 83 percent rating and the title "Friend of Seniors" from that group.

    But Tiahrt said he thinks he works for seniors regardless of which groups like or don't like him. Thanks to the 60 Plus Association, he has his own recognition to point to - not just as a friend, either, but as a "Super Friend."

    Reach Alan Bjerga at (202) 383-6055 or abjerga@krwashington.com.

    Heroes, Friends and Guardians

    Here is a sampling of some of the titles that have been given to Kansas' congressmen, the groups the titles are from and what those groups stand for:

    Rep. Todd Tiahrt

    -- "Taxpayer's Hero": Citizens Against Government Waste - opposed to higher taxes, for lower spending.

    -- "Champion of Private Property Rights": American Land Rights Association - greater economic development of federal land.

    Rep. Jerry Moran

    -- "Friend of the Taxpayer": Citizens for a Sound Economy - lower taxes, smaller government.

    -- "Friend of Rural Counties": National Association of Counties - money for rural counties.

    Rep. Jim Ryun

    -- "Best and Brightest": American Conservative Union - support of capitali sm, "traditional" values.

    -- "Hero of the Taxpayer": Americans for Tax Reform - opposes all tax increases, supports flat tax.

    Rep. Dennis Moore

    -- "Friend of the National Parks": National Parks Conservation Association - opposes further Alaska oil drilling, supports wildlife preservation.

    -- "Friend of Seniors": National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare - expanded prescription drug benefits for seniors.

    Sen. Sam Brownback

    -- "Guardian of Small Business": National Federation of Independent Businesses - lower business taxes.

    -- "Spirit of Enterprise": U.S. Chamber of Commerce - growing U.S. business es.

    Sen. Pat Roberts

    -- "Watchdog of the Treasury": Taxpayers for Common Sense Action - works to kill federal programs considered wasteful.

    -- "Sound Dollar": Free Congress Foundation- economic and cultural conserva tism.