Plus Ça Change
A post by James V. Toscano
Well, the long drawn out election process is over, with everything pretty much the same, albeit with early hints of a desire to get something done.
President Obama returns for four more years, hopefully no more than one as a lame duck.
Congress remains essentially the same, with the Democrats picking up one, possibly two, seats in the Senate while they have three more votes in their minority status in the House of Representative.
Could we reverse the old saw and predict: “ Plus la même chose, plus ça change?” Pardon my French, but is this a viable strategy for either party, especially for the party of reversing the status quo and reducing government and deficits?
Will President Obama be able to compromise and not be accused of selling out by his left-wing, or will Speaker Boehner lose his post to Representative Cantor if he agrees to some new taxes?
Time will tell, although I think not. Both of these two will be needed to secure incumbents in their jobs at the midterm elections. Both are in especially strong positions.
And What for Nonprofits
So what does this mean for nonprofits?
Both of the two are talking about reducing income tax deductions. Might this include the charitable tax deduction, which already has some limitations among high-income folks? We’ve heard this song before.
If the Bush tax cuts are retained for everyone except the rich, variously defined by certain levels of income, not corpus, what will this do to those very prospects we are all focused on, those of high net worth, our future major donors?
Speaking of corpus, what do they do with the estate tax? Here’s where nonprofits reverse course and ask that the rich have a higher exemption, usually using the Bush tax cut number, $5 million.
Does compromise mean cuts in social, arts, medical, science and education programs? It certainly does. What does that mean?
And what about all of those cash-strapped states, counties and cities? We’re looking at proposals to have nonprofits pay for services, such as fire and police. But what about schools, roads, infrastructure, etc? That spells nonprofits asked to pay property taxes, sales taxes, and all of the other, perhaps including business income taxes.
What We Need to Do
Bob Egger, the genius behind the DC Central Kitchen, has been out and around for two years now pushing CForward, an advocacy organization and political action committee that rallies the nonprofit community to vote and support candidates who strengthen the role of nonprofits.
We need to support CForward. More than that, we need to mount our own advocacy efforts. We need to take civic action, such as working in voter registration drives, citizenship education, and related nonpartisan efforts.
When we think about it, most of us in nonprofit work have more access than any other sector to the very people with lower voting rates. Our clients, our patients, our outreach attendees, our program participants constitute diverse demographics, but including those ripe for politization.
Is this our role? Back in the 1990’s, when those of us writing the Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s landmark Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence, we included a section on Civic Engagement and Public Policy that was, and, in some circles, is still controversial.
The latest version of this Principle states:
Civic Engagement and Public Policy
“To the extent possible, nonprofit organizations should engage constituents in public policy and advocacy activities as a means to fulfilling their missions and promoting community interests.”
I would hope the next edition would be even stronger.
Clearly, nonprofits cannot legally support candidates (at least until the Supreme Court extends their freedom of speech thinking to us), but we can do many, many things to educate the public and the policy-makers about the effect of their political decisions on the ability of us to move the needle, to seriously impact public benefit.
So, nonprofits, it is our time. It is now our responsibility to our organizations, but, more to our clients, to all of our constituents and stakeholders to advocate for the values which all work to make us a more equal, more just society.