Friday, July 19, 2013

WSJ Opinion: "How Big Government Co-Opted Charities"

James PieresonJames Piereson (Manhattan Institute) has published an Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal highlighting the increasing dependence of many charities on government funding, particularly federal government funding.  While this trend will not be news to anyone familiar with the funding sources for the charitable sector, his particular criticism is the alleged connectino between the lobbying activities of charities and this funding.  For example, he criticizes Independent Sector for purportedly "suppport[ing] a tax increase in exchange for President Obama's agreement to maintain the charitable deduction." 

Whether there really is much of a "charitable-industrial complex" that seeks to use government for its own advancement and enrichment can be debated.  What cannot be debated is that the growth of government at all levels means that few charitable organizations can responsibly fulfill their missions without at least considering whether to take advantage of available government funding; even religious organizations, such as Catholic Charities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Biships, and World Vision, receive funding for some activities according to the piece.  The difficult choice for charities is, of course, whether the cost of accepting such funding in terms of strings and conditions is worth it, and for government what strings and conditions should and can it attach.  The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in Agency for Int'l Development v. Alliance for Open Society Int'l that there are significant constitutional limits on those strings, at least when speech by the recipient charities is implicated.  What prudential limits should apply, however, to ensure both accomplishment of government goals and sufficient independence for charities is far from settled.


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