Philanthropy Notes: March 2013

President Obama finally found a few groups that he doesn’t want to give tax dollars. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has refused to provide aid to more than 200 houses of worship in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions affected by “Superstorm” Sandy, which made landfall in late October. But “there’s no constitutional reason why houses of worship, which often are the first to provide timely disaster relief to hard-hit communities, should be categorically banned from receiving relief funds to repair buildings. In fact, continuing the practice of allowing zoos and museums to obtain the funds while shutting out churches expresses precisely the kind of hostility toward religion that the Establishment Clause rejects,” said Daniel Bloomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Nonprofit leaders warned lawmakers at a congressional hearing last month that tinkering with charitable deductions could have serious consequences, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports. “Substantially limiting the charitable deduction at a time when people are still reeling from the recession, unemployment is high, and charities are facing government cutbacks simply makes no sense,” said David Wills, president of the National Christian Foundation, testifying on behalf of the Alliance for Charitable Reform. The House Ways and Means Committee heard that limiting the value of the charitable deduction would discourage giving and compel nonprofits to cut back on the services they provide to those in need. The committee created 11 working groups to prepare for the tax reform debate, including one focusing on charitable organizations.

Conservatives are still severely outgunned in the world of philanthropy, David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin write in their recent book, The New Leviathan (Random House). As of 2009, “the financial assets of the 115 major tax-exempt foundations of the Left identified by our researchers added up to $104.56 billion,” or 10 times greater than the financial assets of the 75 major foundations of the Right.

The John S. & James L. Knight Foundation released a statement saying it regrets paying author Jonah Lehrer $20,000 to speak at a conference. Lehrer, an admitted plagiarist, was to speak about a book he wrote on decision making but instead spoke about the scandal last year over his unethical behavior . “There are important lessons here for all of us as decision makers and supporters of information projects,” said the foundation’s president Alberto Ibargüen. Foundation partners should not “think that journalism controversies are too hot for them to handle … we want to send the message that when things go wrong the best action is to admit the error and get back to work.”

Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp announced she is stepping down as head of the nonprofit teacher-recruitment group. Kopp will chair the group’s board of directors and remain CEO of its affiliated global network, Teach for All. Current president Matt Kramer and COO Elisa Villanueva will take over as co-CEOs of Teach for America this month.


Regulatory changes will soon force Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to severely curtail its participation in its own private equity funds, which provide one of its most lucrative lines of business, the Wall Street Journal reports. The so-called Volcker rule, expected to take effect this summer, was written to prevent banks from making large bets with their own funds. The investment bank will likely have to reduce its investment in the funds to as little as 3 percent, down from the current 37 percent.

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