Washington Snapshot - September 5, 2013

Up on Capitol Hill, a focus on foreign policy overshadows tax reform this week

This is the last week of the Summer Congressional recess, but some members have returned to Washington to address concerns about Syria that dominate the airwaves and headlines. With the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee’s passage of a resolution yesterday authorizing the use of force in Syria, the next step will be Senate and House votes when all Members return on September 9.

In addition, Congress will have two other pressing concerns on their agenda in early September: the funding of the federal government (which is referred to on the Hill as the Continuing resolution, i.e., the measure that continues to temporarily keep the doors of our government open) and the debt ceiling. The Wall Street Journal points out the existing divide between Democrats, Republicans and the Administration that will need to be overcome to avert a government shutdown. As Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) notes in the article, “there’s just really no common ground right now.” Also see this Bloomberg article.

That is not to say that work on tax reform will come to a halt; rather, Members and staff will continue their behind-the-scenes efforts these first weeks of September. The press has been relatively quiet this week on the subject of tax reform.

That said, a Politico blog quoted House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5) praising House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI-4) for leading tax reform in a bipartisan fashion, but predicting that passage of tax reform legislation is a long shot “unless we can forge an agreement between the White House and the Congress, which is unlikely.” While we continue to hear doubts about whether tax reform can get across the finish line, the Council will remain focused on the process and the issues in tax reform that could profoundly impact philanthropy. Whether or not tax reform passes, the proposals, commentaries and debates around these provisions set precedents for future years’ consideration of the issues.

Tax Reform Tour continues

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chairman Camp (R-MI-4) remain keenly focused on advancing their tax reform agenda, including their national tour. They’ve announced that the Tax Reform Tour will travel to Memphis, Tennessee with a stop at a small family farm and a visit to the FedEx Express World Hub. Even though the meetings will focus on corporate and small business aspects of the tax code, it still offers us a chance to raise our voice on behalf of the philanthropic sector’s priorities.

Another week, another tidbit on the IRS probe

The Hill’s article “Looming fiscal fights threaten IRS probes notes that the upcoming (and inevitable) fiscal issues of the continuing resolution (government funding) and debt ceiling will require a great deal of Congressional attention. But that doesn’t mean that scrutiny of the IRS is off the table, and some Congressional staff insist that the momentum hasn’t stalled:

“The committee has a wide span of issues on its plate, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Sarah Swinehart, a spokeswoman for House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI-4). “These investigations take a long time, and we’re under no illusion that this will be over quickly.”

Council on Foundations' Fall Conference for Community Foundations

Public Policy is on the Agenda!

Over the next three weeks Snapshot will highlight some of the public policy programming we’ll feature at the Council’s Fall Conference for Community Foundations in San Diego from September 21-25th. We hope to see many of you there later this month. We’ll give an overview of some pre-conference opportunities this week, and look at some policy breakout sessions next week.

Great Pre-Conference programming in San Diego on Sunday September 22nd

Helping your Community Recover after a Natural Disaster

The Council has for a number of years provided an advanced legal seminar at our Fall conference. At this year’s seminar, we’re addressing the legal questions that arise in the real-world scenario of natural disaster response and recovery. Community foundations play a key role in providing resources to communities devastated by disaster. On Sunday afternoon, attorney Tracey Boak of Perlman and Perlman, LLP in New York City will lead an in-depth session involving the legal questions community foundations need to consider when providing disaster relief. Dr. Marco Cocito-Monoc of the Greater New Orleans Foundation will share his own experience of dealing with disasters. The session will be moderated by Suzanne Friday, Counsel at the Council. CPE and CLE credit is available to participants. For more information and to register, please visit our website

Working with veterans

The new Veterans Philanthropy Community of Practice will host a forum to share investment strategies and lessons in supporting veterans and military families. Learn about the challenges overcome and outcomes achieved from funders, such as those from the San Diego Grantmakers’ Veterans and Military Families Working Group and the Lincoln Community Foundation. Joining us in this session will be the staff of Warrior and Family Support Office of the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who will share with participants their post-Gulf Wars community outreach strategic plan. This is a great opportunity for funders who want to pick up tips for designing grant programs or learn more about gaps in veterans’ services. Have lunch, meet your colleagues to share and learn and to connect with the OJCS, the National Guard Bureau, Blue Star Military Families, and the Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans Association leaders for a military-philanthropy culture exchange.

This pre-conference is open to any funder attending the conference. For more info contact Stephanie Powers. Space is limited to 40 funders. RSVP to Brian Horn.

We're looking for your input

Are you legal counsel for a community foundation? Do you handle legal issues for your organization? Our public policy and legal affairs team is looking for your input. Sue Santa and Suzanne Friday are hosting a working reception (complete with cocktails and snacks) for legal practitioners immediately following the advanced legal seminar on Sunday evening from 5:00 p.m. to 7 p.m. Our colleague and consultant, Cindy Lott, will be leading an energetic conversation about the future direction of the Council’s legal affairs work. For more information, please contact Bryan Del Rosario.

Articles that crossed our desk this week

In our previous two issues, Snapshot highlighted two New York Times blog posts by Bruce Bartlett: “The Future of the Charitable Deduction” and “The Charitable Deduction, Continued.” Bartlett examines both the history of the charitable deduction and also considerations for the deduction in tax reform in these two pieces. Peter Orszag former director of the Office of Management and Budget and vice chairman of corporate and investment banking and chairman of the financial strategy and solutions group at Citigroup Inc., wrote a similar piece in Bloomberg this week highlighting nonprofit growth particularly for hospitals and universities. Orszag examines some of the differences between nonprofit and for-profit businesses.

In an interesting Wall Street Journal article this week, “Hard Wired for Giving,” psychology writer Elizabeth Svoboda analyzes recent scientific data indicating that humans are hard wired to be altruistic. There is a biological basis for why “giving feels good.” In the midst of all of the global turmoil and unsettling headlines of the week, these words were reaffirming.

In our August 22 edition of Snapshot, we provided an overview of articles that addressed the thorny issue of a hierarchy of charitable causes (or creating tiers/preferences among charitable causes) and the precarious nature of that debate. We are not particularly surprised to see attention to that concept mounting. In the New York Times this week, an opinion piece entitled “Not Very Giving” by Stanford professor Rob Reich looks at some California local school foundations (which are public charities) and the wealth or funding gaps they can further perpetuate among schools depending on the wealth of the parents who donate to them. The author proposes a few ways in which the inequity could be addressed. Of particular note, he suggests that Congress should “differentiate or eliminate charitable status for local education foundations.” While this idea is not new, we reiterate that suggesting a hierarchy or “differentiation” among charitable causes or organizations opens a host of complex issues that require careful and extensive examination.

More great opinion pieces

Here is a timely example of the power of op-eds. These two great pieces were picked up by additional publications this week.

Juanita James, President and CEO of Fairfield County Community Foundation authored “Charitable Deduction Vital To Communities” and it was picked up by the Stamford Advocate.

North Carolina philanthropic leaders David Heinen and Holly Welch-Stubbing’s opinion piece, “Congress Should Keep the Charitable Deduction,” was picked up by the Charlotte Observer this week.

If the Council can help your organization draft or place an op-ed, please contact Brian Horn.

Next Week

We look forward to sharing more with you about the Council’s Fall conference, and reporting on Congress’s return to Washington. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to any member of our public policy team if we can be of assistance, or there is any issue you would like us to highlight in Snapshot.