Friday, August 16, 2013

Nonprofit Coalition Disagrees with Commission

Yesterday we blogged about the recently-released report from the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations which recommended that clergy should be able to say whatever they believe is appropriate in the context of their religious services or other regular religious activities even when that includes content related to political candidates.  Under the Commission's new world order, such communication would be permissible as long as the organization’s cost would be the same with or without it.   The NonProfitTimes and the Chronicle of Philanthropy are today both reporting that Independent Sector, a leading coalition for nonprofits, has strongly criticized the Commision's recommendations.

“This is a deeply disturbing and troubling option,” said Independent Sector's President & CEO, Diana Aviv. “We think it should not be a possibility,” she said.

According to Aviv, some parts of the report and its recommendations were unclear, while other parts were contradictory and required further reading and study.  She viewed the report and recommendations as having the intent to “drive a truck” through the clear separation of political activity and nonpartisan political activity from other activity.

“While we agree with the commission that there is no clarity in this area, the solution is not to gut everything,” Aviv said. “This actually contaminates our advocacy work.”

The only item in the report that Independent Sector agreed with was that current regulations are vague and require clarity.  According to Aviv, a strong argument exists for reviewing the limits put in place in 1969 and 1976. Current regulations allow charities to interact with public officials on a limited basis, which Aviv said is an appropriate distinction since organizations work to educate officials on issues relevant to their missions and members.

“Speaking out and engaging in advocacy on issues is critical to the ability of nonprofits to achieve their missions. This is an entirely different matter than endorsing candidates or getting involved in political campaigns,” she said.  She sees three necessary solutions to the political speech issue: (1) greater clarify over what is political activity: (2) clearer definition of what “unsubstantial” means for 501(c)(3) organizations; and (3) disclosure of donors to 501(c)(3) organizations if their donations are used for partisan activity.


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