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Nonprofit Golf Group Nabs a $3 Million Earmark

Correction Appended

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) inserted a $3 million earmark into the Defense spending package during conference proceedings that will go to a charitable foundation connected to the James E. Clyburn Golf Center in Columbia, S.C.

According to a copy of the conference report posted on the House Rules Committee’s Web site, Clyburn inserted the earmark into the Defense bill for The First Tee, a golfing nonprofit run by the World Golf Foundation and sponsored by major corporations including AT&T and Walmart. (Roll Call sponsors an annual First Tee event involving Members of Congress that benefits D.C. youths.)

Although Democrats inserted a number of new provisions into the Labor and Health and Human Services spending package during conference, Republicans reviewing the package said it appears few new programs were added during conference in the Defense bill.

But the Defense bill is still loaded with earmarks inserted earlier — more than 2,000 separate provisions worth nearly $5 billion, according to a preliminary review of the conference report.

Dubbing it the “Caddyshack earmark,” Republicans wasted no time lampooning the earmark and questioning the decision to insert it into the Defense package.

“Why would we fund a golf course in a Defense bill? Do groundskeepers need to arm themselves against gophers? Do patrons need up-armored golf carts? Only Congress could send defense dollars to the wrong Green Zone,” one GOP aide said.

The First Tee is “dedicated to providing young people of all backgrounds an opportunity to develop, through golf and character education, life-enhancing values such as honesty, integrity and sportsmanship. The intent is to offer opportunities for improvement in the quality of life and create a platform where children can increase their potential for success,” according to the group’s Web site.

Neither Clyburn’s office nor The First Tee responded to requests for comment, and at press time it was unclear what the earmark would be used for at First Tee or why Clyburn inserted the provision into the Defense bill during conference rather than during the regular legislative process.

City officials in Columbia renamed their golf center after Clyburn during an Aug. 6 ceremony. According to a brochure for the facility, “The concept was the original idea of Congressman James E. Clyburn, which he shared with City of Columbia officials. The 11-acre center is a community gathering spot and also serves as a beacon of hope for local children and will not only focus on honoring Congressman James E. Clyburn, but it will also allow our community to highlight his many contributions to our city, our region, and our state.”

The First Tee partners with the Clyburn Golf Center through the Columbia First Tee program, which is aimed at helping youths, particularly poor and underserved populations, through playing golf.

Clyburn praised The First Tee in an AT&T press release announcing a $25,000 grant to the Columbia chapter that came out the same day the center was renamed for him.

“The First Tee Columbia program promotes the same ideals that I have envisioned this center would stand for,” the release quoted Clyburn as saying. “Golf is a game with a rich history, and it always offers the opportunity for improvement and success. It is a game to be played with others, as long as there is a place to learn and play the game. First Tee helps make sure that our youth in Columbia will have such a place for years to come.”

Correction: Nov. 8, 2007
The article’s original headline about a $3 million earmark inserted into the Defense appropriations conference by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) was incorrect. The earmark is intended for use on U.S. military bases by The First Tee, a nonprofit group that teaches “life skills” to children through golf.

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