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Burger Seeks Funds for Constitution Fete

April 15, 1986|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The commission overseeing the nation's observance next year of the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution will seek private donations to help finance the federally supported project, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said Monday.

Burger noted that the commission thus far has received only $12.5 million from Congress--a "fraction" of the $200 million in federal and private funds made available for the bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution in 1976. "If these programs we want are to be launched, there's got to be some private money coming in," he said.

Competing With Iacocca

The chief justice, who is chairman of the commission, said that the task might be complicated by the recent success of "a gentleman named Iacocca"--a lighthearted reference to the $233 million raised for the restoration of the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island by a private foundation headed by Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler Corp.

"I have a feeling that in a good many cases, (large donors) will say: 'We gave at the office,' " Burger said.

The chief justice spoke to reporters before a public hearing by the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, created by Congress to promote and coordinate the celebration of the historic document.

He conceded that the commission is off to a "late start"--its permanent headquarters will not be opened until midsummer--and that a "substantial" amount of private funding will be needed to finance a wide range of activities. In addition to the $12.5 million already received from Congress, the commission is seeking $12 million in other federal funds, commission officials said.

May Raise Deduction Limit

Federal law now authorizes the commission to solicit tax deductible donations up to $25,000 annually for individuals and $100,000 a year for businesses. A proposal to raise the limits to $250,000 and $1 million respectively is pending before Congress.

Burger sidestepped a question about reports that he would resign as commission chairman because of the time it has taken from his job as chief justice. "It does take a lot of time," he told the reporters. "I promise you that, if anything along that line is done, you'll be among the first to know."

Stressing the educational purpose of the commission, Burger outlined plans to help sponsor such projects as television documentaries, high school and law school essay contests and the nationwide distribution of reproduced paintings depicting the signing of the Constitution.

Schools Singled Out

In the hearing, Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) announced that he will introduce a bill to identify up to 20 schools or districts in the country that have developed exemplary programs on citizenship education. The legislation would authorize the secretary of education to award such schools annual grants of up to $75,000 a year to promote their programs in their geographic areas.

Bradley singled out two California programs for special praise: one in Sacramento, where more than 1,000 high school students are tutoring elementary pupils on citizenship, and one in Long Beach, where students are re-enacting debates two centuries ago between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. In both communities, local lawyers are participating in programs designed to show how the judicial system operates.

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