Nonprofit Newswire | Disclosure Threatens Foundations’ Autonomy? Hokum!

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June 1, 2010; Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy | This ought to make organized philanthropy proud—not! With the help of the Alliance for Charitable Reform, the conservative philanthropic group that has been carrying a lot of the foundation world’s opposition to racial/ethnic disclosures in grantmaking and governance, the state of Florida has just adopted a law that prohibits “government officials from requiring that foundations disclose the race, religion, gender, income level, sexual orientation, or certain other characteristics of their employees and board members, as well as those of their grant recipients.”

So, it is legitimate to ask about racial/ethnic issues in banking, employment, and education (no, asking and calling for better diversity doesn’t mean “quotas”), but not in philanthropy. Philanthropy is exempt because it is . . . well, what is it about philanthropy that it doesn’t have to disclose some or all of these characteristics of governance and grantmaking? Maybe it is because the federally tax exempt foundations are motivated by higher and better thoughts than the rest of us.

We are having a little trouble understanding the Chronicle’s headline, “Fla. Adopts Legislation to Protect Foundations’ Autonomy.” Does disclosure mean compromising foundations’ autonomy (the article suggests that the law will “preserve foundations’ independence and help attract more foundations to Florida;” where has the independence of foundations been threatened? Oh please!)?

The law does prevent government from mandating grantmaking to racial/ethnic groups, but we haven’t found mandated grantmaking to be at risk in any state government scheme, not even California’s controversial AB624 statute—which was only about disclosure. These purported “threats” to foundations’ autonomy, much less independence, are trumped up issues. They are meant to tell government officials that regulation and oversight of philanthropy, regardless of the regulatory content, will shrink philanthropic grantmaking and scare foundations out of state. Hokum, pure hokum.— Rick Cohen