Washington Snapshot

Washington Snapshot - July 22, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016 - 2:21 pm EDT

Congress IconNews from the Hill

New Tax Leadership for Senate Finance Democrats

On Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced a new tax leadership team for Senate Finance Committee Democrats.

Victor Fleisher, of the University of San Diego, and Tiffany Smith, currently on staff with the committee, have been named Chief Tax Counsels. Wyden said, “I’m thrilled that two of the top tax pros are teaming up to lead our efforts to radically simplify the tax code… Victor is a true outside thought leader in this space and Tiffany has been invaluable over the past years executing our agenda.” 

To learn more, check out the Senate Finance Site.

Executive & Regulatory News IconExecutive & Regulatory News

White House Highlights Data in Response to Recent Tragedies

In the wake of recent tragedies in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, the White House has sought to provide resources that help communities address racial disparities in criminal justice, build trust between police and communities, and reduce unnecessary use of force. The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation this week called on community leaders to help support these efforts by engaging residents, police forces, and policymakers in the conversation.

Building on the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the Administration highlights five steps that foundations and other community leaders can take to engage in these nationwide efforts:

  1. Don’t wait for a crisis to engage with local law enforcement; call meetings with clear agendas, participate in surveys, and other activities.
  2. Participate in problem-solving efforts to reduce crime and improve quality of life.
  3. Work with local law enforcement to ensure crime-reducing resources and tactics are being deployed that mitigate unintended consequences.
  4. Work with state and local government to address obstacles to releasing data and increasing transparency in ways that build community trust and enhance accountability.
  5. Review school policies and practices, and advocate for early intervention strategies that minimize involvement of youth in the criminal justice system.

The use of data in funding criminal justice reform efforts has been of particular interest for a number of Council members recently, and the White House reaffirmed their commitment to two data-driven efforts that look to support immediate and lasting action to reduce unnecessary use of force and build community trust. The Police Data Initiative (PDI) includes a community of practice encompassing 60 police departments committed to releasing data on police activity to increase transparency, build community trust, and strengthen accountability. There is also a pilot underway to identify officers at risk of using force and get ahead of the challenge. The Data-Driven Justice Initiative (DDJ) is a bipartisan coalition of 67 city, county, and state governments committed to using data-driven strategies to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system.

If you are interested in engaging with these and other efforts related to community policing, we encourage you to visit the White House website. For more information on the Council’s work with the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, you can contact John Cochrane, Associate Director for Social Innovation (john.cochrane@cof.org).

News IconNews from Around the Globe

Council Launches Sustainable Development Goals Report

In the last year, the United Nations has passed a number of new global frameworks, many of which have been signed or ratified by the US government. In September 2015, President Obama fully endorsed the UN’s 2016-2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promised to work toward these global targets through international aid and with US domestic agencies.

This week, the Council released a new report, From Global Goals to Local Impact: How Philanthropy Can Help Achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in the U.S. This report follows a three-city tour of the US in the last year, during which the Council convened funders with both public and private sector groups to discuss how philanthropy can apply the SDGs to their work, especially domestic funders working on issues like poverty, hunger, and climate change in America.

Last week, Council President and CEO Vikki Spruill published an op-ed in The Guardian urging developed economies like the US to utilize the SDGs for problems at home. Vikki points out that the United States spends billions on global development outside our borders, while often ignoring the prevalence of the very same issues at home. The SDGs create a framework through which philanthropy – an integral partner in development – can move the needle on complex challenges like inequality.

Earlier this week, the Council’s Global Philanthropy Director Natalie Ross published a Huffington Post op-ed entitled, 7 Steps Philanthropy Can Take to Bring the SDGs Home to America. These steps are a roadmap to implementing the SDG framework for US foundations. The Council is also working with federal agencies and US government staff to support engagement with philanthropy in implementing the SDGs. To learn more about the Council’s work on the SDGs, check out our Sustainable Development Goals & Philanthropy Initiative.

Legal IconTrending in Legal Affairs

A member community foundation was asked whether it could establish a charitable fund to help restore a historic building in the downtown commercial area. The historic nature of the building was not in question as it has received a designation and listing on the National Register of Historic Places, however the building is owned by a private social club and is primarily used for club meetings and other club purposes. The social club is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Our legal team explained that while the historic nature of the building is notable, if the building restoration would benefit primarily the private interests of the club rather the public, funding the restoration would not be an appropriate use of charitable dollars. As an alternative, the club may look into donation of a conservation easement intended to preserve the historic features of the building.  Once an easement is transferred to a qualified charitable organization, charitable dollars could be used for the restoration and maintenance of the façade or other historic features of the building.

Conservation easements have many requirements to satisfy IRS rules, and should only be transferred to qualified organizations with the ability to monitor and enforce the terms of the easement, therefore consultation with an experienced attorney or conservation organization is important.

For more information on this or any other tricky legal matters, please contact the Council’s Legal Affairs Team at legal@cof.org.

Access to the Council’s legal team is a valuable member benefit. Council attorneys are available to discuss your legal questions and to provide legal information by telephone, email and through our various publications and newsletters. This information is intended for educational purposes and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The information is not a substitute for expert legal, tax or other professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances, and may not be relied upon for the purposes of avoiding any penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code.

State Policy IconHappening in the States

Exclusive from our colleagues at the National Council of Nonprofits.

National Council of Nonprofits logo

Nonprofits, Funders Oppose Massachusetts Property Tax Mandate

Stung by the news that UMass Lowell—a public university, not a nonprofit—plans to purchase and take off the tax rolls property worth several hundred thousand dollars in tax revenues, a state legislator from Lowell, Massachusetts is promoting an amendment that would require nonprofits purchasing property currently on the tax rolls to pay property taxes over the course of four years. The measure, attached to an economic development bill, was approved by the House, but not included in the Senate version. The two bills are now in a conference committee.

A coalition of nonprofits is actively advocating for rejection of the property tax mandate. In a letter to key legislators, the Providers’ Council, the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, and several other nonprofit associations urge the lawmakers to reject the House language “as it would both directly contradict already existing state and federal laws and shatter the social compact that the nonprofit sector and government have worked for so long to build.” The 17 organizations stated further, “This section would cause irreparable harm to the nonprofit community – it would significantly impede the operations of nonprofits, harm their fiscal solvency and threaten access to essential programs for residents across the state.”

Lowell philanthropist Nancy L. Donohue has also joined in the debate, writing an op-ed opposing the city’s efforts to divert nonprofit resources to the public treasury. “Nonprofits are the engines that create genuine community, quality of life and opportunity, especially for people from less privileged backgrounds. The burden nonprofits place on our government is tiny compared to the social and economic benefits they create.” Donohue is most direct in explaining the impact of government policies on local communities and fundraising: “Every dollar we take from them for the government, regardless of our intention, is another dollar they have to raise or another dollar of service they cannot provide.”

The issue is likely to be resolved soon because the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn at the end of the month.

News IconPhilanthropy News and Op-Eds

Philanthropy’s Role in Serving the “Public” Interest

In a recent article published in Inside Philanthropy, the question is raised: what is the appropriate role of philanthropy to step in for the shortcomings of government, and is it a sustainable model moving forward?

In times where we see increasing instances of state and local budget shortfalls, and the failure of government to efficiently address crises (think Flint water crisis, Detroit bailout, Hurricane Katrina), philanthropy is increasingly stepping up to the plate to take action.

As the Council’s Board Chair and President of the Jessie Ball duPont Foundation, Sherry Magill, points out in response to this article—“When we confuse the private with the public, we absolve the public of its rightful responsibility for the health of the community, and worse, give up on holding elected officials responsible for the deteriorating condition of our communities.” 

Her conclusion echoes concerns that permeate the sector: “we do not have the financial resources to replace local, state, and federal tax receipts, and it is not our proper role to replace government. Who will hold elected officials accountable for the condition of our commonwealth and what is organized philanthropy’s role in that enterprise?”

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