Nonprofit Newswire | The Politics of Giving

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March 2010; Reason | Conservative philanthropy’s counterpoint to the purportedly liberal-leaning Council on Foundations is the Philanthropy Roundtable, headed by Adam Meyerson. In an interview in the politically conservative magazine, Reason, Meyerson lays out his vision and concerns for the nonprofit sector. Like the Council, he defends philanthropic grantmaking and charitable giving against pressures to target—through changes in tax law perhaps—giving to people most in need. He defends freedom in charitable giving, pointing out that giving to colleges and universities, medical research, and religion might be threatened if efforts to target or restrict charitable giving succeeded. He defends the “wonderful diversity” within the philanthropic sector against the attacks of the Greenlining Institute’s charge in California calling for foundations to report on their internal staff and governance diversity and the racial/ethnic diversity of their grantmaking. His position is little different than the Council’s, except that his criticism of the Community Reinvestment Act (one of Greenlining’s other advocacy targets) is a bit more strident than his Council-linked allies. Meyerson’s interesting point is a criticism about what he calls the “cartelization” of the nonprofit sector, or of philanthropy, in which larger charities or foundations might use the tax code to regulate their smaller compatriots, which he links in some ways to state government efforts to regulate the sector (he’s clearly not likely to support more regulatory control). He speaks positively about entrepreneurial philanthropy featuring “exceptional business minds…coming into philanthropy” and the “exciting” development of intermediaries, including “libertarian intermediaries” (none specifically identified in the interview). He worries that President Obama might follow policies that lead to “a danger in trying to bring “the private charitable sector under the control of government,” which he describes as “self-defeating and even suicidal” (for foundations, not for government). With the slight difference between Roundtable’s desire to maintain more independence from government than the Council’s dalliance with federal government partnerships and leadership camping out at the White House for meetings with top Obama staff, Meyerson’s interview with Reason doesn’t sound like a huge departure from what might have been said by his Council of Foundations counterparts.—Rick Cohen