Washington Snapshot - January 31, 2014

Register now for Philanthropy Week in Washington!

"Philanthropy Week in Washington” is quickly approaching. Hosted by the Council on Foundations from March 3-7 is the new initiative for a week of activities – some very familiar and others new. The week will begin and end with communications activities using both traditional and social media. The main activities in Washington D.C. will be conducted mid-week (March 4th-6th) so that participants can both enjoy a variety of events and make effective use of their time here in the nation’s capital.

Many of you have participated in Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) over the years – and it’s not going away! FOTH, hosted by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers with strong and ongoing support from the Council, will be the primary, Capitol Hill-focused event during which delegations from across the country visit with their Members of Congress (March 5th and 6th). “Philanthropy Week” offers those participating in FOTH a comprehensive and impactful Washington experience. It will add a unique element of education and relationship-building for leaders of both community and private foundations.

“Philanthropy Week” will also include the Alliance for Charitable Reform Summit for Leaders, the half day informational seminar that has gained in popularity and prominence over the past several years. This year’s Summit will take place on the morning of March 5th.

Go to the Philanthropy Week website for registration information, and make sure to book your room at the Embassy Suites Washington D.C. – Convention Center when you register. Time is running out to secure a room in the block during this extremely busy week in Washington!

We’ll regularly update the website as new events and activities are announced for the week, so keep checking. We look forward to seeing you in March!

President's State of the Union Address

On Tuesday President Obama addressed Congress and the public with the annual State of the Union address from the House chambers on Capitol Hill. The speech focused primarily on domestic policies aimed at tackling the lingering effects of the recession, such as a minimum wage increase, retirement savings plans, job training program reforms, and changes to the unemployment insurance program. A standout moment in the speech was the President’s recognition of Army Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger severely wounded in battle whose long road to recovery is truly inspirational.

The President directly called on foundations to help support pre-kindergarten education and programs for boys and men of color. The President said he planned to convene a group of philanthropists, public officials, and business leaders around early-childhood education issues. On boys and men of color programs, the President asked foundations to “help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.”

The Council on Foundations has been working with the White House and the Administration on a range of issues, including specific efforts to support boys and men of color and veterans affairs.

Council president and CEO Vikki Spruill issued a statement this week, saying, “Philanthropy plays a significant role in addressing a number of policy priorities that the President mentioned -- in particular, a call for national unity in support of veterans and their families. For several years, the Council has engaged its members on this important issue. Working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Council has developed connections among foundations devoted to this issue and worked to elevate it in the philanthropic community. Through collaborations with colleagues, we are working together to identify areas for partnerships and for complementary efforts in support of those who have served our country, and we will continue to prioritize this effort.” For more information on the Council’s work on veteran’s issues, visit http://www.cof.org/content/supporting-veterans-military-families.

On other issues, the State of the Union only briefly mentioned tax reform. The President reiterated his proposal to eliminate business tax “loopholes” and use the savings from that to cut corporate tax rates. He didn’t propose any specific changes to the individual tax code. In his response to the President’s speech, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) listed transparency for certain types of tax-exempt organizations among existing program changes that should be made: “The IRS could make public disclosures from colleges and other major tax-exempt groups more readily available or maybe even require more disclosure in exchange for their tax exemption so executive perks and other spending that contributes to college costs receives scrutiny,” Senator Grassley said.

For more on the State of the Union, you can read Rick Cohen’s take on the speech in the Nonprofit Quarterly.

Tax News

Ways and Means hearing on IRS oversight and new 501(c)(4) rules

House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles W. Boustany Jr. (R-LA) announced that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing with the new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen onWednesday, February 5th. When describing the purpose of the hearing, Representative Boustany focused on the IRS targeting controversy and the new proposed rules for 501(c)(4) political activity. “[The IRS] has acknowledged targeting groups based on their personal beliefs, but now is using that scandal to justify new proposed regulations that will silence the very groups that were abused. The problems at the agency are many, and they are diverse, but what they all have in common is it will be up to Commissioner Koskinen to begin correcting them,” Boustany stated.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI-4) wrote to Treasury Department Secretary Jacob Lew and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen this week requesting all documents related to the proposed 501(c)(4) rules. A few weeks ago, Chairman Camp introduced a bill that would prevent the IRS from finalizing the rules for a year, to allow for the ongoing investigations to conclude. “Before having all the facts in hand, Treasury rushed forward with new rules that seriously limit groups’ ability to engage in public debate. It is clear that the Obama Administration is still targeting conservative groups and wrote these rules to put them out of business. This is pure politics and the new IRS commissioner should do the right thing and put a stop to it,” said Chairman Camp in a press release about the letters.

In related news, this week United States Attorney General Eric Holder Attorney General said that there is still a chance the government

Baucus' path to China

On the day the President addressed the nation with the State of the Union, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) faced a more targeted audience for his ambassador nomination hearing. Senator Baucus testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday about his appointment to serve as the next ambassador to China, fielding several tricky questions, primarily from Senate Republicans. POLITICO predicts that despite a “gaffe” during his testimony when Senator Baucus suggested that he lacked expertise on China, he will almost certainly be confirmed.

As we’ve reported, it is widely anticipated that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)—who just joined Senator John Thune (R-SD) and 31 other Senate colleagues in support of the full value of the charitable deduction — will replace Senator Baucus as the new Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Other News in Philanthropy

INNovation Fund to support nonprofit media organizations

As many of our readers know, for several years the Council has been active around the issue of nonprofit media organizations. We support those working with the IRS in an effort to obtain clear guidance on the tax-exempt application process for nonprofit media groups that seek 501(c)(3) status.

Recently, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Investigative News Network (INN) have announced that they will provide grants of up to $35,000 for projects that help nonprofit media with technology, business, or operations. The $1 million INNovation Fund will go towards around 30 projects over the next two years, with most organizations winning grants of $25,000 to $35,000. The grants are open to any online news nonprofit or public media organization in the United States. INN will oversee the program, and the INN board will choose the grant winners.

INN will host a Google Hangout to discuss the INNovation Fund and answer questions about it on February 13th. You can RSVP for the hangout here.

Keep in Touch!

Please feel free to reach out to any of us on the public policy team with any comments or concerns, or to share an issue, article, event, or op-ed you’d like to see covered in a future Washington Snapshot.