Nonprofit Newswire | Politics, Earmarks and Nonprofits

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March 13, 2010; CQ Politics | Although we know that many nonprofits have learned to skillfully work the federal earmark system to the advantage, in many cases, of their communities, the political grandstanding in the House last week around earmarks made about as much sense as a lot of the rest of the political discourse in Washington lately. The Washington Post covered the tempest on March 10 after House Democrats imposed a ban on earmarks to for-profit companies. Republicans countered quickly with a proposal to impose a moratorium on any earmarks whatsoever which would include earmarks to nonprofits and municipalities. Sen. John McCain, long anti-earmark, has now taken up the cause in the Senate where it is, by many accounts, likely to stall out. Meanwhile, we at NPQ would like to weigh in to say that a “for-profit bad/nonprofit good” stance here makes little sense as far as earmarks go. The mere status difference does not ensure that federal dollars will be well or badly expended. This is from a column by John Cranford in CQ Politics on Saturday: “There seems to be an impression that nonprofits are by definition small, public service-oriented organizations, when they sometimes can hardly be distinguished from ordinary companies. Three of the largest defense contractors—Aerospace Corp., Battelle Memorial Institute and Mitre Corp.—are organized as nonprofit enterprises. Battelle had almost $3.5 billion in federal contracts in fiscal 2008, including shared responsibility for managing the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Not coincidentally, Battelle also benefits from a few million dollars in earmarks in fiscal 2010 appropriations, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.”—Ruth McCambridge

  • Patrick Lester

    > we at NPQ would like to weigh in to say that a “for-profit bad/nonprofit good” stance here makes little sense as far as earmarks go.

    Although I love your work at the NPQ (great research and writing, seriously!), we at the Alliance for Children and Families strongly disagree with you in this case.

    >The mere status difference does not ensure that federal dollars will be well or badly expended.

    That’s true, but while limiting earmarks to charities does not guarantee that they will be well spent, it does increase the likelihood that they will be used for public purposes (because profit has been taken out). But of course you need more than this. You also need increased transparency, which the House Democrats also included in their policy.

    > Three of the largest defense contractors