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Waste of the Day: Throwback Thursday: In 2008, DOJ Pays Teens To Jar Salsa, Salad Dressing

February 15, 2024

Topline: In 2008, the Department of Justice earmarked $517,000 — $754,000 in today’s money — for the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s “Green Corps,” a summer program that teaches high schoolers how to make and sell salsa and salad dressing.

That’s according to the “Wastebook” reporting published by the late U.S. Senator Dr. Tom Coburn. For years, these reports shined a white-hot spotlight on federal frauds and taxpayer abuses.

Open the Books
Waste of the Day 2.15.24

Coburn, the late U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, earned the nickname "Dr. No" by stopping thousands of pork-barrel projects using the Senate rules. Projects that he couldn't stop, Coburn included in his oversight reports.  

Coburn's Wastebook 2008 included 65 examples of outrageous spending worth more than $1.3 billion, including the $517,000 wasted in Cleveland.

Key facts: Teenagers participating in the Green Corps worked together to produce 6,000 jars of “Ripe From Downtown” salsa, which were then sold for $5 per jar, according to news reports from the time.

Other program objectives included learning the difference between rice and quinoa and deciding which spices taste best on vegetables.

The program had 55 participants, meaning the DOJ spent over $9,400 on each Cleveland student. Adjusted for inflation, that’s almost $14,000 per student — which would have been enough to pay for a semester of tuition at Cleveland State University last year.

Background: 2008 was not the only time the Cleveland Botanical Garden received tranches of questionable taxpayer funding.

In 2023, the state spent $23.2 million on Ohio Arts Economic Relief grants. The second largest of 139 grants went to the Cleveland Botanical Garden: $671,000, with top priorities including funding field trips for third-graders.

The botanical garden charges visitors for parking, which some have called a violation of the use of the garden’s public land; it uses 10 acres of space donated to the city in 1882 to be “open to all.” The debate went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, where the botanical garden won its case.

Summary: There’s certainly nothing wrong with the DOJ supporting juvenile justice programs, but perhaps there’s a more efficient way to keep kids off the streets than paying $517,000 for high-end salsa production.

The #WasteOfTheDay is brought to you by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com

This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.
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