Washington Snapshot - February 14, 2014

We wish our readers a Happy Valentines Day! We also hope that those of you in the eastern part of the country are staying warm and enjoying a snow day or two!

UPDATES ON "PHILANTHROPY WEEK IN WASHINGTON":

Philanthropy Week in Washington is quickly approaching. The Council is looking forward to all of the activities slated for March 3rd through 7th. New events, reminders and updates below:

NEW Philanthropy Week Event: Philanthropy Liaisons Breakfast

Do you wonder what a Philanthropy Liaison at a federal agency does? Would you like to hear more about potential opportunities to coordinate your foundation’s projects with federal agency initiatives? Or, maybe you’d like to continue a conversation you’ve had with agencies at prior meetings.

On Thursday, March 6th from 8:00am to 9:30am at the Finn and Porter Restaurant Embassy Suites, the Council on Foundations will host the liaisons from several federal departments and agencies to converse with Philanthropy Week participants. We’re bringing the liaisons to you this year so you won’t need to leave your Hill visits and travel to the individual agencies! Spend your breakfast in conversations with the liaisons, share information about the work you do, and learn about potential opportunities to coordinate, collaborate, or partner on projects where you share an interest.

These will be informal conversations, and further details will be announced soon.

Hotel Block Closing TODAY!

If you're coming to Philanthropy Week, this is your last chance to receive the group rate at the Embassy Suites! This is a very busy time in D.C., and several major events are taking place while you’re here. The room block and the preferred room rate close today, February 14th. To book your hotel room visit the website created specifically for our group’s reservations, or call the hotel at 202-739-2001 and reference “Foundations on the Hill.”

REMINDER: Webinar Next Week

As Philanthropy Week quickly approaches, the Council on Foundations is excited to offer a webinar geared at getting you up-to-speed on the latest happenings in Washington! Join us next Wednesday, February 19th from 3:00-4:00 pm EST. The webinar is open to all interested participants.

Council staff and our consulting team will give an update on what we anticipate will be happening in Washington as you arrive in town the first week of March, register now. We’ll also review the messages that we find are resonating right now on Capitol Hill so your meetings will have impact and influence. Register by emailing govt@cof.org.

For Additional Information:

Visit the Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) website for more information about FOTH, hosted by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, with strong and ongoing support from the Council. The annual Hill delegation visits will occur Wednesday and Thursday, March 5th and 6th. Also be sure to check outthe Alliance for Charitable Reform Summit for Leaders website for information on this half day informational seminar on March 5th that has gained in popularity and prominence over the past several years.

We look forward to seeing you in Washington very soon!

Tax Policy News

Camp tax reform plan expected soon

Sources inside the Beltway this week report that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI-4) will likely release a tax reform proposal within the next three weeks. Insiders are speculating that the proposal may be released before the expected date of the President’s 2015 Budget, March 4th.

As our readers may recall, Camp planned to release a tax reform plan in 2013, but was asked by House Republican leadership to hold off until after budget issues were resolved. The Hill reports that the bill is likely to cap the top individual and corporate tax rates at 25 percent. This rate cap would require reducing or eliminating certain deductions or credits, which could prove challenging in a midterm election year.

We are following this development very closely, and will report as we learn more. Release of this draft bill could coincide with “Philanthropy Week in Washington,” and we’ll be sure all of our messaging and materials will reflect this development.

Wyden officially named new Senate Finance Chair

After months of speculation, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been officially named the new Senate Finance Committee Chair. Wyden replaces Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who was recently confirmed as the U.S. Ambassador to China. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) will take the open seat on the committee.

Politico published a fascinating profile on Senator Wyden this week. “Wyden in many ways contrasts with the ever-cautious Baucus, who resigned his seat last week to become ambassador. Baucus, who had pushed for tax reform, did not put out any proposals until after he announced his retirement from the Senate and even then they were labeled ‘staff drafts.’ The often professorial Wyden — critics say he can be a know-it-all — has been willing to endorse controversial ideas, even when it’s clear they’re going nowhere,” the article noted. The piece also talks about Wyden’s willingness to work across the aisle and tackle bills on a wide breadth of policy areas, and is certainly worth a read.

Roll Call looks at Wyden’s agenda as the new Finance Chair. Instead of focusing initially on comprehensive tax reform, he will initially look to smaller, more achievable legislative goals, such as passing a “tax extenders” bill.

The “tax extenders,” which expired at the end of 2013, include the IRA charitable rollover and other giving incentives that are important to our members. Extending these tax provisions will be his priority. As we reported last week, Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) introduced bills that would extend the IRA charitable rollover and the deduction for food inventory donations for one year. And, in a bill that would provide an even more favorable treatment of the IRA Rollover, Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) Public Good IRA Rollover Act would expand the provision and make it permanent law. We are encouraged by Wyden’s focus on the “tax extenders,” and to Senator Schumer and Representative Grayson for seeking to build momentum on the Hill on the charitable “tax extenders.”

As always, the Council on Foundations actively supports both extending and expanding the IRA Rollover.

Backlash on 501(c)(4) political activity rules

As we reported earlier this year, Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced legislation in January—the “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014 (H.R. 3865)—that would prohibit the IRS from issuing or finalizing the proposed 501(c)(4) regulations. The bill was largely a political statement by Camp and other Ways and Means Republicans opposed to the proposed rules. This week, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up the bill, voting to move the bill forward out of committee. The markup also added language that prohibits the IRS from changing current rules for determining whether an organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.

In his opening remarks during the markup, Chairman Camp gave his rationale for the bill. “I have long made clear that this Committee will fight any and all efforts to restrict the rights of groups to organize, speak out and educate the public. The legislation before us today would prevent these rules from being implemented by this Administration for one year. This timeframe would allow Congress to finish our investigation and ensure that the agency processes what is already a record number of public comments – more than 23,000 so far – so that the IRS and Treasury can really get to the merits of why these rules were formed,” Camp stated.

Ranking Committee member Sander Levin (D-MI-9) criticized his Republican colleagues for diverting time, energy, and resources away from the IRS for extensive congressional investigations. “In all, more than 150 IRS employees have worked 70,000 hours -- time taken away from taxpayer services -- to accommodate the ongoing requests for information from congressional investigators. And yet, there’s been absolutely no evidence of any corruption unearthed. Not a single piece of evidence showing any political motivation. Nothing showing any involvement outside the IRS,” Levin said in his remarks.

The New York Times reports this week on a growing objection to the rules from both sides of the aisle: “In a rare agreement between Tea Party and liberal activists, organizations across the political spectrum say new regulations drafted by the Internal Revenue Service to curb a surge in political spending and activity by nonprofits are far too broad. They fear that enforcement of the regulations would chill more neutral civic initiatives such as voter registration efforts and candidate forums.”

The Council will submit comments on this rule to the IRS by the February 27th deadline, focusing on the likely impact of the rules on 501(c)(3) organizations.

Please contact the Council’s Policy Analyst Katherine LaBeau if your organization plans to submit comments or if you would like more information on this important issue.

Congress Suspends Debt Ceiling

In dramatic votes on the floor of each chamber where the fate of the bill was far from certain, both the House and the Senate agreed upon and passed a debt ceiling suspension that averts the potential of a credit default. After the House voted 221 to 201 on a “clean” debt ceiling suspension— without any conditions attached—the Senate ultimately voted to approve it by simple majority, despite some Republican demands for a 60-vote threshold. The bill is expected to be signed by the President, meaning the ongoing showdown over the debt ceiling is over—for now.

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.