Nonprofit Newswire | December 18, 2009

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The Nonprofit QuarterlyLow Power To The People
Dec 17, 2009; | Much has been made recently of nonprofit journalism—particularly in the print or online platforms. But there’s another interesting prospect on the horizon. Noncommercial radio was given a green light today by the House, and we’re poised to see a proliferation of independent, low power stations, which would thaw the broadcast consolidation, diversifying the voices on public airwaves. Of course, there’s no guarantee stations will take this path. Advocacy for independent and minority ownership is still paramount, demand for programming needs to increase, and (in the ultimate test) consumers and advocates alike need to ensure big media stays out of the game. This article in Mother Jones details the scope of advocacy that’s as relevant today as ten years ago, when microradio was a much smaller phenomenon. There’s a window of opportunity here for media-savvy nonprofits to promote active democracy, and we’re looking forward to following more developments in this field.—James David Morgan

The Nonprofit QuarterlyTheology Group Reflects on Impact of Prosperity Gospel
Dec 17; The Christian Post | A well-respected theology group has released a statement to the effect that “the teachings of those who most vigorously promote the ‘prosperity gospel’ are false and gravely distorting of the Bible.” As defined by the group, the prosperity gospel teaches that “believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings,” which is a theory often associated with Pentecostal churches. The relevance to nonprofits is that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the Senate Finance Committee have been long investigating charitable abuses by religious institutions, six of which are well known televangelist or megachurch ministries: Joyce Meyer Ministries, World Healing Center Church, Without Walls International Church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries. These ministries collect donations that count as charitable deductions, they don’t report with anything like the levels of transparency that most 501(c)(3) nonprofits pursue, as Senator Grassley’s frustrated attempts to get basic information on their financial records has revealed. For the most part, nonprofits follow the laws on financial reporting through their IRS 990 forms. These prosperity gospel ministries, like religious organizations in general, have been exempt from that kind of reporting. It may be time for the prosperity gospel ministries, many of which have become quite prosperous through their solicitation of charitable deductions, to begin following, or being compelled to follow nonprofit-like public accountability and transparency rules.—Rick Cohen

The Nonprofit QuarterlyMusic to our Ears
Dec 17, 2009; Austin Business Journal
| In many under-funded public school systems across the country the arts are the first to go when budgets shrink. In 2007, start-up music nonprofit, Grounded in Music, was founded to make sure that children growing up in the live music capital of the world (Austin, Texas) weren’t missing out on a music education. Grounded in Music partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area to become one of its signature programs for children in grades four through 12th. The program serves roughly 500 children annually. This week, I saw my kindergartner perform in his very first Boston Public School music performance. In three short months, Mr. Epstein, from the Community Music Center of Boston, has transformed a room full of great and unruly four and five-year-olds into a room full of great and unruly four and five-year-olds who love music class! Thanks Mr. Epstein, Grounded in Music, and other nonprofits around the country, which bring the arts to schools and communities where there would otherwise be none. Your hard and important work is recognized.—Aaron Lester

The Nonprofit QuarterlyCounties: Governor’s Aid Delay Not a Surprise—and Not Welcome
Dec 15, 2009; Daily News
| Recognizing the importance budget shortfalls to the health and vitality of the nonprofit sector, Nonprofit Quarterly has been on top of the state budget crises around the nation, notably the dynamic where troubled states delay contracts and payments to nonprofit service deliverers. New York State lately has been clawing its way to the top of the heap of states with troubled budget situations and dysfunctional legislatures unwilling to come to grips with the facts. In response to legislative paralysis, Governor David Paterson decided to simply withhold 10 percent of state aid payments to county governments. No surprise, the delay is felt in human service agencies that get their state funds funneled through county governments. The county manager of Genesee County was straightforward about the impacts felt by human services ”such as those mandated by the state and provided through county governments. That can include social services, Medicaid and youth programming. We will not deny anybody services, but to the extent that I’m doing what the state requires me to do, and they’re giving me no money or less money, something’s going to give there.” Neighboring Wyoming County is prepared to discontinue programs such as human services and programs for senior citizens if the state delay becomes prolonged. These delays have real consequences, seen not just in nonprofit budgets, but in diminished services offered to people in need.—Rick Cohen

The Nonprofit QuarterlyS. Orange Aims to Collect Cash from Students
Dec 16, 2009; Newark Star Ledger 
| We continue to be concerned about the propensity of so many municipalities to try to find ways of taxing tax-exempt nonprofit property owners, taking particular aim at nonprofit universities through tax subterfuges such as tuition taxes. According to the Newark Star Ledger, “nearly 100 mayors at the state League of Municipalities’ annual convention in November supported a resolution that would impose a $100-a-year fee for full-time students.”  The City of South Orange (where Seton Hall is located) has already proposed a state law that would assess students $50 per semester to help localities pay for municipal services ($50 a semester is $100 a year). The mayor who introduced the League of Municipalities resolution was Montclair’s Jerry Fried who is taking aim at Montclair State College, which is described as “a little city.” No one should be surprised that there are the Montclairs and South Oranges toying with revenue-generating schemes aimed at nonprofit (or in Montclair State’s case, a public university) institutions that would pass the costs on to students. What is disturbing is that 100 New Jersey mayors would endorse the notion so enthusiastically. Playing to town/gown antagonisms for municipal revenue generation is a pretty crass kind of political maneuver that suggests a rather shallow appreciation of the value of the nonprofit sector among some mayors and councils.—Rick Cohen

The Nonprofit QuarterlyFEC Opens Scrutiny of Nonprofit Rules
Dec 17, 2009; CQ
| The Federal Election Commission lost a case against EMILY’s List in September with huge ramifications for nonprofits that might be engaged in election-related advocacy.  Now the FEC is trying to back into a new set of rules governing the political behavior of nonprofits in light of the EMILY’s List case. A 527, EMILY’s List challenged the FEC rule limiting a large part of the political activities of 527s to “hard money” in an effort to restrict the unfettered “soft money” political activities of groups like MoveOn and Swift Boat Veterans. “Hard money” expenses of 527s are more heavily regulated than soft money expenses and donations are capped at $5,000 per donor. EMILY’s List argued that the FEC limitation violated a bevy of electoral laws, including the FEC’s own authorizing legislation, and the First Amendment. The FEC “hard money” regulation not only applied to 527s, but to other nonprofits that might solicit contributions that might be used to support or defeat political candidates. The EMILY’s List case overturned the FEC rule and the FEC apparently chose not to appeal. So, with uncapped donations to nonprofits for political activities, there is likely to be more nonprofit engagement in partisan voter registration activities and issue advertisements that refer to political candidates. The FEC has issued an interim rule to clarify what nonprofits can and cannot do within this much less restrictive post-EMILY fundraising environment. For some reason, to us, the more we read about FEC rulemaking, the less we understand. Time for an overhaul.—Rick Cohen



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  • Mike Burns

    I’m guessing you are also following the 1% Tuition tax conversation going on in Pittsburgh. It’s been an on-again off-again conversation for the last couple of weeks. While being a backdoor-tax on nonprofits (which has lots of implications for lost of institutions) it’s actually a reasonable strategy when the PILOT payments don’t really cut the mustard.