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31 posts categorized "Policy"

Philanthropy Not Talking Power

October 31, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, an initiative that sought to improve how foundations serve the public. In his previous post, he urged nonprofit leaders to do more to restore Americans' confidence in the sector's ability to serve the common good.)

Rosenman_headshotIn a way, foundations are partly to blame for the dysfunction in Congress. After all, conservative-leaning foundations helped build the Tea Party movement and are still supporting it and many like-minded organizations. Reasons for assigning blame to moderate and progressive foundations are less obvious -- and mostly have to do with actions not taken and opportunities squandered.

In the wake of the government shutdown and the destructive and economically costly legislative brinksmanship around the debt ceiling, some leaders in the foundation world are calling for philanthropy to play a more active role in healing our democracy, fixing a broken Washington, and developing an immediate action plan in support of those ends.

They rightfully note, as have others, that the myriad issues of concern to foundations and nonprofit organizations are powerfully affected by the actions of and funding provided by government. They point out that moneyed private interests continue to trump the public interest when it comes to policy. And they note the growing sense that economic inequality in the United States may be undermining belief in the American dream and our very system of government.

What's more, a survey soon to be released by the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds that a majority of U.S. foundation leaders view the "current government policy environment" as a significant barrier to their organizations' ability to achieve their programmatic aims -- and those responses were gathered before weeks of acrimonious debate in Congress and the sixteen-day shutdown of the federal government.

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Creating Paths to College and the Urgency of Now

October 29, 2013

(Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant is the interim director of the Youth Policy team at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization that works to improve the lives of low-income people. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Headshot_RhondaTI was a STEM whiz as a child — a seemingly unlikely thing for a girl, and an African-American girl at that, to be. In middle school, I attended a magnet program and learned computer programming while taking advanced math and science classes. In high school, I took calculus and physics and learned a computer programming language. My primary interest was engineering, so my school district helped me attend summer programs at area universities. That experience landed me a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the age of 17.

Although I chose public policy instead of engineering as my life's work, those were the opportunities that put me on a path to college. My middle school and high school offered classes that nurtured my interests in mathematics and science. I had great teachers who used hands-on learning to take basic lessons to the next level. I remember our physics teacher explaining the science behind breaking boards martial arts-style and wading in the Chesapeake River in hip-high boots to learn about plant life. I also had guidance counselors who knew me personally, connected me to summer opportunities that allowed me to cultivate my academic interests, and walked me through the college application process. My family couldn't afford to pay for college. Without these opportunities, it would have been far more difficult to continue my education.

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Hey, Wall Street, Can You Spare a Dime?

August 05, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, in Washington, D.C. In his last post, he urged nonprofit leaders to speak out when confronted with evidence of illegal or unscrupulous behavior in the sector.)

Rosenman_headshotWhile religious groups and nonprofit organizations are forming new coalitions and joining established leaders in the fight to preserve the charitable tax deduction, most charities have remained silent about cuts in government funding for domestic needs. Even more disturbing, few in the nonprofit world seem aware of a new legislative initiative that could add billions of dollars to such programs -- and their own funding streams.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have introduced a financial transaction tax modeled after one approved by the European Parliament that is being adapted in eleven nations. Oddly, though Harkin and DeFazio's version of this "Wall Street speculators sales tax" has attracted support from over forty national nonprofit organizations and labor unions, it has not captured the imagination of local and regional charities or nonprofit sector leaders.

According to one study, up to $350 billion a year might be raised by a tax on equity and bond trades as well as the trading of options, swaps, futures, and other derivatives. Such a tax would not apply to the day-to-day financial transactions of individuals or to things like loans and debt issuance.

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The Next Affirmative Action

August 02, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the fourth installment of that series (click here for the third, "A House Divided," by Thomas J. Sugrue), Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy program at the New America Foundation, argues that while affirmative action "as we know it is dying," the Supreme Court's targeting of current policies may be "an opportunity to change the way people think about race and higher education." The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Affirmative-actionAffirmative action as we know it is dying. A growing number of states have moved to prohibit public universities from considering race in admissions, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in an anti-affirmative action lawsuit that left little doubt about where the Court's conservative majority stands. Less than a decade after the Court upheld racial admissions preferences in Grutter v. Bollinger, newer jurists like Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts seem ready to render unconstitutional a policy that has helped generations of minority students grab a rung on the ladder of opportunity.

The Court's likely decision is particularly odious given the college admissions apparatus it will leave in place. Elite colleges warp and corrupt the meritocratic admissions process in a wide variety of ways. Academically substandard athletes, for example, are allowed in so they can play for the amusement of alumni and help shore up the fundraising base. While some men's football and basketball players come from low-income and minority households, many athletes at the highly selective colleges where affirmative action really matters engage in sports like crew and lacrosse that are associated with white, privileged backgrounds. Colleges also give preference to the children of legacies, professors, celebrities, politicians, and people who write large checks to the general fund. All of these groups are also disproportionately wealthy and white.

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Partnering With State Governments to Strengthen Families: Early Lessons From the Work Support Strategies Initiative

May 20, 2013

(Luis A. Ubiñas is president of the Ford Foundation. This commentary is adapted from a forthcoming Urban Institute report, available online starting June 4, that includes an array of perspectives from leaders about practical lessons emerging from the Work Supports Strategies initiative.)

Headshot_luis_ubinasOver the past half-decade, as the country has suffered through a deep, persistent economic downturn, America's work support programs have served as an essential backstop for millions of working families struggling to keep a toehold in the labor market. For many families, supports such as child care subsidies, health insurance and unemployment assistance, and food stamps have been the difference between staying together and dissolution.

Yet in dozens of states, lean budgets and antiquated, underresourced work support systems are failing to meet the needs of America's working poor. Problems that were evident in better times have become more intractable, even as caseloads have expanded. How can states improve the health and well-being of low-income families, stabilize their work lives, and make it possible for family breadwinners to get and keep a job if they are unable to get basic work supports to those who are eligible?

Solving such a challenge goes to the heart of what all of us in the philanthropic community do on a daily basis: tackling major problems at a scale that results in real and enduring change -- in this case, creating opportunity for low-income populations and keeping low-income workers in the workforce.

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Reducing Gun Violence: A Q&A With David Bohnett, Chairman, David Bohnett Foundation

March 18, 2013

Headshot_david_bohnett"Now more than ever, we need to provide support for the advocacy organizations that are working to establish a formidable counterweight to the gun lobby, which is well financed, well organized, and will stop at nothing to protect the interests of the firearms industry and obstruct sensible legislation that will help save lives."

So argues David Bohnett in an opinion piece he co-authored with Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad in February. For Bohnett, a technology entrepreneur who co-founded the pioneering community site GeoCities back in 1994, gun safety has long been an interest of his and a focus area of the David Bohnett Foundation. Indeed, as Bohnett told PND, reducing gun violence is consistent with the foundation's mission "to improve society through social activism."

Earlier this month, PND spoke to Bohnett via e-mail about his and Broad's efforts to reduce gun violence in America, his view of recent legislative proposals in Congress to address the issue, and what he thinks other foundations and philanthropists should be doing to advance solutions to the problem. (For more on the issue, check out the special collection on gun violence in Issue Lab.)

Philanthropy News Digest: The Bohnett Foundation supports organizations working in a range of areas. When and why was gun violence added to the foundation's grantmaking portfolio?

David Bohnett: Supporting responsible gun legislation and working on gun safety has been one of our primary focus areas since the foundation began in 1999. Reducing gun violence is consistent with our mission to improve society through social activism. The issue is one of the cornerstones of building healthy and vibrant communities where people feel safe to walk the streets and conduct productive and meaningful lives.

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Homeownership and the Racial Wealth Gap

March 06, 2013

I'm 29 and still hopeful I'll be a homeowner one day. Both my parents have owned their homes for years, and it has always been clear to me that the financial and social benefits of owning a home outweigh the benefits of paying less in rent and using the extra income for other things. Even though I know, as an African-American woman with some serious student debt living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, that the odds are stacked against me, I've started taking some steps to make homeownership a possibility in the not-too-distant future.

So you can understand my unease after reading the following in a new study from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University about the growing wealth gap in the United States:

While homeownership has played a critical role in the development of wealth for communities of color in this country, the return on investment is far greater for white households, significantly contributing to the expanding racial wealth gap shown in [the figure below]. The paradox is that even as homeownership has been the main avenue to building wealth for African-Americans, it has also increased the wealth disparity between whites and blacks....

As the report, The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide (8 pages, PDF), notes, homes are the largest investment most American families make, and they are by far the biggest item in a family's "wealth portfolio." For African Americans, home equity represents 53 percent of household wealth, while for whites, who typically have a more diversified wealth portfolio, it accounts for just 39 percent. "Yet, for many years," the report's authors write, "redlining, discriminatory mortgage-lending practices, lack of access to credit, and lower incomes have blocked the homeownership path for African Americans while creating and reinforcing communities segregated by race. African Americans, therefore, are more recent homeowners and more likely to have high-risk mortgages, [making them] more vulnerable to foreclosure and volatile housing prices."

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Let's Think Smarter About the Charitable Tax Deduction

January 14, 2013

Jan Masaoka is CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits), publisher of Blue Avocado, and author of The Best of the Board Café, Nonprofit Sustainability (with Jeanne Bell and Steve Zimmerman) and The Nonprofit's Guide to Human Resources.

Jan_masaoka_headshotOn New Year's Day, lawmakers in Washington finally agreed to disagree and passed a bill to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. But with the federal government looking at another trillion-dollar deficit and record levels of debt, no idea for balancing federal expenditures and revenue will be off the table for long.

For many nonprofits, keeping the charitable tax deduction off the table is the issue. But while the issue itself may seem straightfoward, there are more nuances and choices to it than meet the eye. There are many ways, for example, to increase taxes that would not have a directly negative impact on nonprofits -- which, after all, are a huge part of the safety net for the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, and many others.

The deal made to avoid the fiscal cliff left the charitable tax deduction untouched for the most part -- and for the time being. To be clear: neither eliminating the deduction nor reducing the deductibility rate was discussed; the administration's proposal would have lowered the current cap on the deductibility of charitable gifts from 35 percent to 28 percent of one's income. The one tiny change passed was the reinstatement of the Clinton-era Pease Amendment, which will raise taxes on some of the wealthiest donors by perhaps $2,000 each.

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Gun Violence in America: A Q&A With Ellen Alberding, President, Joyce Foundation

January 04, 2013

Ellen_alberding_headshotThe December shooting of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, by a young man armed with a semiautomatic assault rifle, two handguns, and several hundred rounds of ammunition sparked an explosion of outrage and immediate calls for Congress to do something about the seemingly unchecked and -regulated spread of guns in America. In the three weeks since the massacre, another four hundred and twenty-seven people in the U.S. have been killed by guns and the momentarily white-hot debate over gun control has taken a back seat to other policy issues.

Just before the New Year, PND checked in with Ellen Alberding, president of the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation and an outspoken proponent of reasonable gun-control policies, about the scourge of gun violence in America and what philanthropy can do to address the issue.

Philanthropy News Digest: You wrote eloquently about the problem of gun violence in America after the January 2011 shooting in Tucson that left six people dead and thirteen others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wounded. Here we are, two years later, trying as a nation to come to terms with another horrific mass shooting, and nothing has changed. Does that surprise you?

Ellen Alberding: There's no question that gun violence prevention is one of the most challenging public policy issues facing our nation. And for too long, that has been an excuse for inaction. But following the recent tragedy in Newtown, our country seems to be done with excuses and is demanding action, in the form of stronger gun laws that can help prevent further carnage.

More than 400,000 people have signed a White House petition asking for action and 900,000 citizens have joined over 800 mayors in cities across the country to demand a plan from Washington to reduce the toll of gun violence. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, the response from so many other groups -- nonprofits, law enforcement, education groups -- has been encouraging as well.

This time is different. And we must demand a different outcome.

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Newsmaker: Shawn Dove, Campaign Manager, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Open Society Foundations

December 17, 2012

Headshot_Shawn Dove_In October, the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center released a report, Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys  (40 pages, PDF), which found, among other things, that philanthropic support for African-American men and boys has risen steadily over the past decade, from $10 million in 2003 to $29 million in 2010. At a time when nearly every major indicator of economic, social, and physical well-being shows that African-American males do not have access to the opportunities they need to thrive, the philanthropic sector is working to address this critical need on two fronts: by supporting organizations in the "black male achievement field" and by spotlighting the fact that more needs to be done to tackle racial and economic inequality in America.

In the foreward to the report, Shawn Dove, manager of the OSF-based Campaign for Black Male Achievement, noted that former Open Society board member Lani Guinier has long argued that African-American males are not unlike "canaries in the coalmine," in that their socioeconomic plight foreshadows many negative trends that eventually will affect the broader society. That explains why, for many, the well-being of African-American men and boys is not a "black issue." It is, as Dove said when we spoke to him recently, "an American issue." Moreover, he added, "[g]rantmakers should not enter th[e] field with the expectation that they can parachute in and save the day....We need to look at what's working, and to spread the word about what success looks like."

After more than twenty years working in the fields of youth development, education, and community building, including stints as a director of a Beacon School in Harlem, as creative communities director for the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, and as vice president for MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, Dove joined OSF in 2008. PND spoke with him in November, shortly after the release of the report.

Philanthropy News Digest: We've been told that America in 2012 is a post-racial society. Is it?

Shawn Dove: I guess that depends on one's definition and interpretation of "post-racial." If one's definition is a society in which there are no racial disparities when it comes to opportunity, access, and equity, I would say, "Not so much." In 2012, America aspires to be post-racial. But judging by the wealth gap, ethnic and racial disparities in access to high-quality education, and the number of people of color in the House and Senate, I'd say we still have some work to do.

PND: Countless studies and papers have outlined the many root causes of racial inequality in America. If the causes are clear, why do large portions of the African-American community continue to be adversely affected by disparities in education, health care, and employment?

SD: You know, that is the billion-dollar question. Two of our grantee partners, the American Values Institute and the Opportunity Agenda, have done extensive research on implicit bias in America, and what their research revealed was that far too many people hold unconscious racial prejudices that affect their decision making when interacting with races other than their own. So while retail sales managers, for example, will say they don't have racist attitudes or are not prejudiced, they'll also resist putting people of color, specifically African-American males, in roles that have direct contact with customers.

Americans of all ethnicities still have an exceedingly difficult time having honest conversations about race. There are a number of organizations and leaders who are organizing people to have discussions about racial disparities in our society, but a lot of work still needs to be done to change the behaviors that perpetuate inequality in this country.

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[Infographic] The Danger of Capping Deductions

December 11, 2012

Like deer in the headlights, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have spent the last five weeks paralyzed by the approach of the so-called fiscal cliff.  While the White House and Congress appear to be moving closer to a deal that would delay or avoid the worst effects of the cliff, the details of such a deal remain murky.

One thing that has surfaced repeatedly in negotiations between the two sides, however, is a cap on various tax deductions, including the deduction for charitable giving. As the infographic from the National Council of Nonprofits below suggests, such a cap would have an adverse impact on charitable donations -- and, by extension, local communities.

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Campaign Finance and Charities

September 06, 2012

(Mark Rosenman, a Washington-based scholar-activist and director of Caring to Change, a D.C.-based effort to promote foundation grantmaking for the common good, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he looked at the potential impact of the Romney/Ryan platform on nonprofits.)

Rosenman_headshotCharities depend on people's trust and on the public's support for their existence. Unfortunately, much of that goodwill is being eroded by the behavior of some nonprofit organizations in the 2012 presidential race.

First, it's important to understand that there are lots of different kinds of organizations that are granted tax-exempt status by the IRS. They range from industry associations and what are called "social welfare organizations" to the charitable and faith-based groups we usually think of when we hear the term "nonprofit." Only donors to the latter, however, receive a tax deduction for their charitable donations.

For years, most social welfare organizations operated in service to a particular charitable concern and the broader community. The main difference between these organizations and charities is that the former are granted extensive powers to lobby government -- although those activities may not include "direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." As my grandmother used to say, that's all gone to hell in a handbasket since the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Citizens United decision in 2010 -- and that hurts charities.

A lot has been written about the partisan political abuses perpetrated by what are known as (c)4 groups (that's the IRS designation for social welfare groups; charities are classified as [c]3s). Indeed, in this election cycle, (c)4s are using the secrecy afforded them by law -- (c)4s do not need to make public the names of those who fund them -- as never before to pour millions of dollars into vitriolic presidential ad campaigns intended to influence voters.

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Nonprofits Missing From Big Battles

June 06, 2012

(Mark Rosenman, a Washington-based scholar-activist and director of Caring to Change, a D.C.-based effort to promote foundation grantmaking for the common good, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, Rosenman and co-author Gary D. Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation, wrote about efforts by Congress to curtail the advocacy rights of nonprofits.)

Rosenman_headshotWe are seven months from what some are calling "taxmageddon" and others describe as a "fiscal cliff." And while leaders in the nonprofit sector are narrowly focused on proposed changes to the charitable tax deduction that could reduce charitable donations by about $2 billion a year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has already approved cutting trillions of dollars from programs critical to low- and moderate-income people and the charities that serve them.

Charities and foundations should be gearing up to confront immediate and near-term policy battles of extraordinary consequence to them. Instead, they seem to be wearing blinders -- or simply fear controversy, no matter the stakes.

Congressional Republicans seem to want a repeat of last summer's divisive struggle over raising the debt limit and are committed to pursuing new budget cuts. This comes after the House recently approved changes to last year's deficit-cutting sequestration agreement and shifted what was a shared annual burden of $109 billion entirely to domestic programs.

House Republicans also are trying to preserve Bush-era income tax cuts for wealthy Americans, an action that if successful will cost an estimated $1 trillion in revenue over ten years -- and doesn't include the loss of billions in revenue from estate tax reductions for millionaires. They have already passed the budget put together by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a plan that goes well beyond a renewal of the Bush cuts and give millionaires an additional tax break averaging $265,000 a year while cutting over $3 trillion from programs that serve low-income people or fund the charitable programs that help them.

This is not chump change. To give you a sense of the magnitude of the proposed cuts, the shift in sequestration alone is more than the total annual giving of all U.S. foundations combined. And the so-called Ryan plan calls for cuts in domestic program over ten years that are about seven times the equivalent projected total of foundation giving -- a shortfall that would result in some two million people losing their access to food stamps and another forty-four million having them reduced. The Ryan plan also would eliminate the social service block grant through which nonprofits now provide services to some twenty-three million people, over half of them children, as well as invalids dependent on Meals on Wheels programs, those in foster care, and those who rely on nonprofit childcare.

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Curtailing Democracy

April 26, 2012

(The following post was written by Mark Rosenman, a Washington-based scholar-activist and director of Caring to Change, a D.C.-based effort to promote foundation grantmaking for the common good, and Gary D. Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation and affiliated professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. In his previous post, Rosenman wrote about widening inequality in the philanthropic sector.)

Voice-of-the-peopleNonprofit organizations have fewer rights today than they did last year. Thanks to language pushed by Republicans in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, charities face yet another coordinated campaign by conservatives to quash popular democracy. And unlike past "defund the left" efforts, this legislation wasn't caught in time by charity leaders to prevent its passage.

Those efforts began in 1981 with a proposal from the right-wing Heritage Foundation, were pushed by the Reagan White House throughout the early and mid-'80s, morphed into major Republican congressional legislative activity in the mid-'90s, and have come back around in various forms since then. Some have tried to limit what charities can do with private contributions; others have tried to expand the types of activities that are prohibited by charities that receive federal funding. Most of these prior attempts were stopped by watchdog organizations -- sometimes working as part of a broad-based coalition -- but only at considerable expense.

And yet conservatives continue to try to chip away at the right of nonprofit groups to engage in advocacy. For example, there is now a law on the books that prohibits nonprofit social welfare (503[c][4]) organizations that lobby from receiving federal grants. Similarly, grantees of the Legal Services Corporation face greater restrictions on advocacy than do other federal grantees.

Over the years, many grantmaking foundations have been alarmed by these attacks. Like much of society, they recognize that a strong, vibrant nonprofit sector helps to build a strong, vibrant democracy. A key element in that equation is the ability of nonprofits to speak out on public policy issues, to challenge institutional power, and to encourage people to get more involved in democratic decision-making. One legacy of earlier attacks on nonprofit advocacy was that a small number of foundations provided support for nonprofit sector watchdogs to monitor these attacks and to help build nonprofits' capacity to engage in advocacy. Alas, while laudatory, that funding was limited and episodic.

Strikingly, over the past few years even the modest amount of foundation funding available for watchdogs and advocacy capacity-building efforts has been scaled back. Key organizations no longer have staff dedicated to monitoring these issues and some organizations that devoted all their work to this cause no longer can. As these trends continue, we should expect that nonprofits will be even less prepared for future assaults on nonprofit advocacy.

The newly enacted appropriations law expands the long-standing and widely accepted prohibition on using federal grant funds for nonprofit lobbying to include "any activity to advocate or promote" any "proposed, pending or future" tax increase (at any level of government) or any "future requirement or restriction" on a "legal consumer product" (e.g., tobacco and alcohol products, junk foods and beverages) -- even when such efforts reflect the very purpose of public funding. None of these key terms is defined, and the scope is disturbingly vague and broad.

The new law also restricts the use of federal funds for many types of regulatory and administrative actions. This means that many groups that comment on state regulations, for example, will no longer be able to under their federal grant. Combined, these changes significantly restrict the advocacy rights of the nonprofit sector as well as the core functions of the public sector to promote and protect people's and communities' interests.

The law is limited at this point to programs funded through the appropriations bill that covers the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education, as well as several independent agencies. But it is easy to see that conservatives will likely want to extend these restrictions to other spending bills that affect the arts, the environment, and many other issues across the nonprofit world.

Consider a few illustrations: a charity might receive federal funding to address the scourge of cancer by reducing tobacco use. To that end, it might launch a public service campaign about the health dangers of cigarettes, especially for minors. Or a charity might get a federal grant to combat the epidemic of obesity in the U.S. They might promote ideas for raising funds for obesity-prevention campaigns or to help reimburse government for the costs of treating obesity-related diseases, including a surcharge on sodas and other sugary foods.

Under the new law, charities would likely no longer be able to undertake these types of activities. Charities are already not permitted to use federal funds to lobby, but they certainly should be able to use federal funds to educate and suggest ideas to the public and policy makers on social issues when consistent with the purposes of a grant. It strengthens our communities when policy makers receive information from independent nonpartisan parties such as government grantees. And their research and policy ideas often are vital to improving the quality of life in our communities. All of this has been made more difficult and in many cases prohibited under the new law.

Let's be clear about this: The new legislation really is a case of the public interest losing out to private ones. Charities tend to advocate on and for issues and in debates where the voices of average people aren't really heard; they work to promote the common good. Additional restrictions on charities' free speech rights are a pointed example of how moneyed interests impose their will on ordinary people and the groups that try to serve them -- and of the need for nonprofit advocacy.

The new law was developed by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and is supported by a number of powerful industries, including the American Beverage Association. Why would a trade association want new restrictions on nonprofit advocacy? Maybe it's because it wants to kill federal funding of programs that address anti-obesity and other public health campaigns that could affect the public's attitude and behavior with respect to sweetened drinks. Knowing how hard that is, they go after the speech rights of public health charities that get federal funding -- all part of a continuing conservative attack on nonprofit speech.

Participating in the broader assault on nonprofit advocacy rights is Cause of Action, an organization established a few months before the restrictions were enacted that's directed by a former staffer to Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) Oversight and Government Reform Committee (and before that a legal associate at one of the militantly free-market/limited government Koch Family Foundations).

Cause of Action has written to at least twenty grant recipients of a federal program that funds anti-obesity and -tobacco activities warning that they may have engaged in illegal lobbying activities. It was writing, it said, only "as a convenience" and to let the organizations know that they may be subject to civil penalties and private lawsuits.

Both are tactics reminiscent of right-wing efforts dating to 1980s to stifle charitable advocacy work. Back then, the threat or actual filing of SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) had a chilling effect on nonprofits' efforts to build democratic participation and otherwise affect public policy for the common good. Often filed by corporations and deep-pocket conservatives, the practice became so frequent that it earned its own acronym. You can be certain that the threat of lawsuits implied by Cause of Action will have a similar effect.

Democracy depends on ordinary people having a voice in policy decisions that affect them, and ordinary people depend on charities to advocate for and promote initiatives that improve their lives and the well-being of their communities. Efforts by conservatives and big business to deny charities some of their power to increase democratic participation limits charities’ ability to address critical problems and issues, and, ultimately, is corrosive of society and representative government itself.

Foundations must understand -- and embrace -- the absolutely critical role they play in providing support for charity watchdogs working to protect the advocacy voice of the nonprofit sector. At a time when the wealthiest people and corporations in this country are hell-bent on rigging the political system for their own gain, it is essential that private philanthropy step up and fund the people and organizations who are working to build a stronger voice for the common good.

-- Mark Rosenman and Gary Bass

Investing in the Environment: A PubHub Reading List

April 21, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she highlighted reports that address some of the issues and legal questions raised by the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.)

Earth-day2012Protecting the environment has long been a priority for many philanthropic organizations; the Goldman Environmental Prize, for example, is now in its twenty-third year. But what about public and private investments in the environment? With global climate change threatening to halt and even reverse the social and economic gains we've seen in the developing world since the fall of the Berlin Wall, one would think that policy makers, multilateral agencies, institutional investors, and private philanthropy would be eager to collaborate to help mitigate the worst of its effects. In honor of Earth Day, today we're highlighting two reports that look at aspects of the clean energy landscape.

According to Impact at Scale: Policy Innovation for Institutional Investment With Social and Environmental Benefit (64 pages, PDF), a report from InSight at Pacific Community Ventures and the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University, the emerging field of impact investing -- investing with the intention of generating measurable social or environmental benefit in addition to financial returns -- will only gain traction when it succeeds in attracting large institutional investors. Indeed, with total assets of more than $20 trillion worldwide, institutional investors (e.g., pension funds, insurance companies, and private endowments) are key players in global capital markets and could do much to legitimize impact investing as a viable alternative to more traditional investment approaches. To unlock the potential of the field, however, public policy must be adjusted to incentivize institutional impact investment by offering, among other things, co-investment opportunities, tax credits, and subsidies for industries and sectors that meet specific impact goals.

For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 created incentives for solar energy development that, according to the report's authors, helped boost U.S. solar manufacturing capacity:

The legislation created a federal investment tax credit (ITC) incentive for solar energy equal to 30% of expenditures on commercial and residential solar energy systems. Initially applicable for only two years, the tax credit was extended for an additional year with the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, and again for eight years in 2008 with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. This last version also allowed utilities to qualify for the tax credit. Between the creation of the ITC in 2006 and year-end 2010, U.S. solar manufacturing capacity quadrupled, with the vast majority of growth in 2009 and 2010. While not solely responsible for the market expansion, the ITC was a substantive driver and policy certainty provided by the eight-year extension has helped to catalyze private investment in the field....

Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the report notes that institutional investors' fiduciary duty to fund beneficiaries can be a constraint:

Institutional asset owners have the potential, through their investments, for delivering social and environmental impacts at scale. But for public policy to help achieve this goal, it must take into account the nature of asset owners as investors and, in the near term, overcome perceptions of impact investing as a new, idiosyncratic, or niche market....

According to the report, targeted engagement of institutional asset owners should include: 1) an "enabling" strategy directed at investors to provide flexibility and "investability" in target markets; 2) an "integrative" strategy directed at intermediaries; and 3) a "developmental" infrastructure-building strategy to support nascent markets.

Where do we stand, then, in terms of investments in clean energy? Global investment in solar, wind, biofuels, and other renewable energy sources, as well as energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies, reached a record $263 billion in 2011, according to Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2011 Edition (56 pages, PDF), a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Pew Environment Group, with the G-20 countries contributing 95 percent of the total and more than half of that, some $128 million, going into solar. The report also found that the U.S. reclaimed its global leadership position in 2011 -- after falling to second place in 2009 and third place in 2010 -- with $48.1 billion in clean energy investments, an increase of 42 percent, followed by China ($45.5 billion) and Germany ($30.6 billion). "At the end of 2011, more than 565 GW of clean energy generating capacity was in place globally, 50 percent more than installed nuclear generating capacity," the report notes.

And what role did public investment play in supporting the sector? "In response to the global economic crisis...,

government stimulus plans allocated more than $194 billion for clean energy efforts. By the end of 2011, almost three-fourths of those funds ($142 billion) had reached the sector. More than $46 billion in stimulus funding for clean energy was spent in 2011, more than half of that by the United States and China together. Of the $53 million that remains, 67 percent ($35.7 billion) is expected to be spent in 2012....

But even though the U.S. led in total clean energy investment, as well as investments in solar, energy efficiency technologies, and biofuels, its leadership "is likely to be short-lived"  because of policy uncertainty. Indeed, nothing "appears likely to stem the long-term shift in the clean energy sector's center of gravity as investment swings from the West (Europe and the United States) to the East (Asia) and from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern."

Both reports suggest there is an urgent need for long-term public policies which incentivize institutional and other private investment in businesses that deliver environmental and social benefit. Without a policy framework to guide those investments and a market infrastructure to support them, however, the U.S. could end up losing the clean energy race and suffer the environmental, social, and economic consequences.

Eager to learn more about investments in clean energy, clean energy technology, and the economic impact of global climate change? Check out these reports, all of which can be found in PubHub:

Have a report or comment you'd like to share? Use the comment section below...

-- Kyoko Uchida

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