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Public interest power games: turf wars at the Fund for Peace.

Surf wars and political battles are endemic to the Washington power game, and even the people in the public-interest community who lobby for idealing over strategies and tactics, clashes of ego and all sorts of maneuvering distract from the real work at hand. The Fund for Peace is one significant player in this small world that has had a fair share of such commotion in the past year. In three instances a dispute has occurred between the fund and a member group.

Founded in 1967 by Randolph Parker Compton, a well-heeled liberal Republican investment banker and one worlder, the fund's mission has been not so much to finance organizations, as its name might imply, but to provide support services like bookkeeping, tax-exempt status and fiduciary management for fledgling groups. The fund, which had a budget of $3 million in 1989, has made a notable contribution by assisting the start-up and subsequent administration of some important groups in the left-liberal cosmos. While associated with the Fund for Peace, these groups are known as fund projects:' They include the Center for Defense Information, a major research center with a programs control slant that is now independent of the fund; the Center for National Security Studies, which monitors U.S. intelligence agencies; and the National Security Archive, which collects and organizes government documents on national security and foreign policy.

It is precisely this noble tradition that makes some of the squabbles between the fund and its projects worrisome. The disputes ostensibly were about management matters, but they also present political disagreements and, in one case, a possible conflict of interest involving the spouse of a member of Congress.

Last summer Bill Herod, the executive director of the Indochina Project, then associated with the fund, thought he had a good deal. The soft-spoken Disciples of Christ minister was delighted when Jeremy Stone, president of the Federation of American Scientists, offered the Indochina Project free office space. Herod could move his shop out of its cramped quarters in the annex of the Brookings Institution and spread out over two floors of a Capitol Hill town house owned by the federation, saving more than 7,000 a year in rent-a sizable sum for his modestly budgeted group.

But when Nina Solarz, the executive director of the Fund for Peace, heard about Stone's generosity, she tried to block the move. Her action caused sparks to fly, perhaps particularly so because of several facts: Stone has been one of the most prominent critics of sending lethal aid to the Cambodian resistance, a policy championed last year by Representative Stephen Solarz, chair of the Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, and her husband.

Congressional spouses are in a tough position. When they attempt to pursue an independent professional life, they can easily confront questions of conflict of interest, especially when they are in the business of influencing Congress, however public-spirited their goals. Inevitably, Nina Solarz's response to the proposed relocation of the Indochina Project, which shares Stone's antipathy toward Representative Solarz's position on Cambodia, prompted the question of whether her motivations might be personal or political.

Solarz bristles at any talk that links her professional decisions to her husband. "I object to that strenuously," she says. "My name is Nina Solarz. I'm not Stephen Solarz. I do not take bidding from my husband. The so-called feminists who say I take orders from my husband do more than annoy me. They offend me.... That is such crap!' She jokes that her husband sometimes wishes she wasn't so independent.

Solarz says that she initially opposed the Indochina Project's move only because she believed it could have been construed as an affiliation with the Federation of American Scientists, so it should have been discussed by the advisory board of the Indochina Project. Absent that discussion, she said, the move should not have been allowed to occur.

But at the time of the fuss, Solarz wrote Herod that the relocation could not happen unless approved by the Fund for Peace's executive committee, not the project's advisory board. Herod asserts that the only reason Solarz offered for her decision was her belief that Stone had "a hidden agenda."

Sorting out what actually happened is further complicated by the competing recollections of members of the Indochina Project's board of advisers. Paul McCleary, chair of the advisory board and executive director of the Christian Children's Fund, says that some members of the board had questions about the move, particularly the implications of accepting free office space from another group, and that Solarz did not act inappropriately. But Edward Dougherty, a former Foreign Service officer on the board, notes that Herod's decision to accept the space was not a serious step and that politics "may have had something to do" with the row.

Herod went ahead and accepted Stone's offer without Solarz's consent. This led to further bureaucratic wrangling, and the Indochina Project and the Fund for Peace eventually agreed to part ways. The project now operates on its own.

To Herod, the episode was particularly troubling because it followed an incident in which, he asserts, Nina Solarz brazenly flexed her muscles on a substantive political matter. Last April the Indochina Project held a briefing on Cambodia for Congressional aides and journalists. Herod says that Solarz vetoed the participation of Stone and another proposed panelist, both of whom could be expected to speak out sharply against lethal aid to the resistance. Solarz participated on the panel and presented her own views on Cambodia. She "made no secret of her support for the Stephen Solarz point of view," recalls one aide who attended the session. "The range of speakers ran from A to B."

"I was profoundly embarrassed"' says Herod, who felt compelled to notify colleagues that Solarz's remarks did not represent the opinions of the Indochina Project. In an interview with her lawyer present, Solarz maintained that she had virtually no say in the composition of the panel and did not ban any potential participants. Stone confirms that Herod invited him to attend and then withdrew the offer.

Nina Solarz, who has run the show at the fund since 1987, appears to have a proclivity to provoking or being drawn into disputes. This might simply be due to the nature of the business or because Solarz is a tough, strong minded administrator. But some who have been on the other side of bureaucratic battles with Solarz say that her agenda is dominated by concerns that are literally too close to home.

Before joining the Fund for Peace, Solarz was executive director of Peace Links, a grass-roots network of 350,000 women devoted to the nuclear arms control issue. One person who worked at Peace Links during Solarz's tenure recalled that in 1987, when a staff member proposed that the group address nonproliferation issues, particularly Pakistan's efforts to make a nuclear bomb (which was much in the news at the time), Solarz scuttled the idea. "She said, We don't know enough about it. We're not experts. You can't do that.' " At the time Stephen Solarz was opposing an aid cutoff to Pakistan, then being pushed by nonproliferation advocates.

Solarz laughs when asked whether she blocked anyone at Peace Links from working on this issue. "My quarrel with Peace Links"' she says, "was that it was run like women sitting around a kitchen table and that Peace Links did not have an agenda other than telling women they should cry and wring their hands about nuclear war." For Solarz, Peace Links' big problem was that "it wasn't interested in issues.

If Pakistan had come up at Peace Links I would've been so pleased I would've shouted hooray." She did not prevent anyone from pursuing the matter, she asserts, adding, "I'm not sure anyone at Peace Links knew where Pakistan was:'

Solarz's association with Peace Links apparently did not work out-so much so that the terms of her departure had to be codified in a confidential agreement negotiated by lawyers representing the group and Solarz. The accord notes that both parties would respond to any inquiries about Solarz's resignation by "stating that she left Peace Links because of policy and philosophical differences, without further explanation." Asked to discuss Solarz, Betty Bumpers, the founder and president of Peace Links, would say only, "No comment:'

Have Solarz's actions been guided inappropriately by political interests? There's no clear-cut proof, just reason to worry.

Nina Solarz also tangled with Scott Armstrong, a former investigative reporter for The Washington Post who founded the National Security Archive in 1985. The archive is a godsend for reporters and academics. Its main function is indexing and publishing enormous sets of documents. (Its El Salvador collection, for example, contains 5,500 documents totaling 27,000 pages.) But the archive also has been a staunch advocate of freedom of information policies, and some of its staff, including Armstrong, were highly visible on Op-Ed pages, in magazines and on television talk shows during the public debate on the Iran/Contra scandal.

Armstrong claims that part of the trouble was caused by his outspokenness on certain subjects. For example, he pointed out that George Bush's accounts of his involvement in Iran/Contra did not jibe with the documentary record; in other words, Bush lied. Nina Solarz maintains that the only issue was Armstrong's less than sound management of the archive, and that the Fund for Peace, the vehicle through which the Ford Foundation and others give financial support to the archive, had a keen interest in guaranteeing smooth operations. The upshot of the episode, some of the details of which are disputed by participants, is that Armstrong is no longer executive director of the archive.

What's clear is that there have indeed been management problems at the archive, including budget difficulties and delays in producing document sets, and there was some skittishness on the part of the Ford Foundation, the major financial backer, about the outside writings and public appearances of archive personnel. Armstrong freely admits he had faults as an administrator. He says that he was willing to move from the executive director post to a less managerial position, but that Solarz, driven by an urge to control, wanted him out of the office entirely, and the Ford Foundation wanted a less vocal Armstrong-which, as anyone who knows Armstrong will attest, was a wish unlikely to be fulfilled. Stanley Heginbotham, a deputy director of the Ford Foundation, says the foundation has a policy "of not speaking on issues relating to the grantees." Solarz maintains that Armstrong, suffering from "founder's disease' " was reluctant to relinquish the reins, so an ugly battle ensued.

Several archive staff members downplay politics as a guiding force behind the dispute. Philip Brenner, an archive board member sympathetic to Armstrong, notes that there were some substantive disagreements. According to Brenner, Solarz looks at the archive very narrowly and fails to understand the importance of its advocacy role, and the Ford Foundation, a cautious mainstream organization, has always been nervous about the political dimensions of the archive. But he says this was at bottom a turf war over "who would rule ... a personal fight that became very nasty."

Armstrong is now a visiting scholar at American University, where he is establishing the Washington Center for International Journalism, which will sponsor programs to assist foreign reporters. The National Security Archive is being run by a troika of staff members while it searches for a new executive director. In the meantime, the archive recently completed work on its Iran/Contra document set, which contains 4,500 documents. The archive may well function better without Armstrong at the helm, but, as Brenner observes, "if he's totally separated from the archive, it will suffer from not having his vision:' Earlier in 1989 the Center for International Policy had a run-in with the fund. The center, founded in 1975, is a small policy shop that deals with issues of U.S.-third World relations-in recent years, mainly Central American topics. Last spring its affiliation with the fund was terminated, a move that caused it severe financial difficulty, since the center had been using a line of credit issued by the fund. Solarz says the split was amicable and that the fund simply thought it was time for the center to leave the nest, as fund projects sometimes are encouraged to do. But William Goodfellow, the director of the center, sees it differently: "I was ordered to smile as I was pushed off the gangplank. Nina told us that the [Central America] issue was over and there was no longer a need for our work." The center is now back on its feet and is functioning as an autonomous group.

The static that has marked the fund's relationship with some of its projects is no trivial matter. The causes espoused by these projects-a just U.S. foreign policy, open and accountable government-are quite important. The fund deserves credit for fostering some worthy organizations. Some of its more recently implemented programs, such as one that sponsors trips to Washington for New York City school children involved in a conflict-resolution class and another intended to assist human rights workers in Africa, seem to indicate a change in course from its usual role of serving as an umbrella for vital groups doing in-the-trenches work in Washington. These are organizations that, at various times, have created major news stories and affected national policy. If conflict with projects is inevitable, perhaps it's best for the fund to stick to running its own programs. The turbulence only helps those on the other side. It's a bit ironic that the self-described mission of the organization Nina Solarz directs is "exploring peaceful solutions to thorny problems."
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Author:Corn, David
Publication:The Nation
Date:Mar 12, 1990
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