While Senators were congratulating themselves for passing ethics reform, they approved a series of "national heritage area" bills significantly increasing the potential for self-dealing and corruption. National heritage areas are creations of Congress in which special interest groups, whose work at times has been funded through earmarks, team up with the National Park Service to influence decisions over local land use.

The federal government should not be forcing taxpayers in one state to pay for special interest lobbying in another.

In response, The National Center for Public Policy Research brought together 114 policy groups and local leaders to call on Congress not to support the creation of additional national heritage areas or federal funding for heritage area management entities, support groups, or groups that lobby for the creation of new heritage areas.

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The letter is being delivered to the House and Senate leadership and members of the natural resource committees September 4.

If the investigations into earmarking abuse tell us anything, it is that we need greater accountability, not less.  National heritage areas push us toward less government accountability. Committees composed of unelected and unaccountable individuals - some of whom have a financial stake in local land use decisions - are given substantial influence over these very decisions through national heritage area designations.  If you think power corrupts elected officials, just wait and see what it does to unelected ones.

Dr. Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation has described how a federally-funded partnership seeking Congressional authority to manage a proposed new heritage area is apparently planning to use its management authority, if granted by Congress, to give itself a "near monopoly on real estate development opportunities" within the proposed heritage area.  Such a monopoly presumably would be immensely profitable.

"National heritage areas are nothing more than government sanctioned looting of private property rights, and in many instances, minorities and lower income folks bear the biggest brunt of this theft," said Deneen Borelli, Fellow with the Project 21 black leadership network.

The letter also thanks Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) for his "leadership on this important issue."