Sea Change

Last Tuesday’s election was brutal, and not just for the Democrats who took it on the chin, but for the whole of the nonprofit sector. The incoming freshman class of Congress represents a sea change for nonprofits—the election of dozens of policy-makers with scant experience with much of the nonprofit sector they will be charged with governing.

In midterm election races across America yesterday, Republicans easily captured the House of Representatives and a handful of Senate seats. On the House side, Republicans had picked up 58 seats as of early Wednesday, with several left to be counted. They needed only 39 to win the majority. The Republicans are projected to win six Senate seats, shy of the 10 needed to wrest control from the Democrats.

The good news for the Democrats was that they held control of the Senate—but with only a slim majority after losing a projected six seats. They also won key races in West Virginia and Nevada, where the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, pulled off a surprise victory against the upstart Tea Partier Sharron Angle in one of the most bitterly fought contests of the campaign.

What do these results mean for nonprofits? How are your new lawmakers likely to affect policies that your organizations and the people you serve depend upon to function and carry out your missions?

Introducing the Class of 2010
Scott DesJarlais decided to run for Congress because of his frustration with the nation’s leadership taking government “firmly on the path towards Socialism.” DesJarlais ran in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District as a Republican. He is a practicing doctor and “Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-Marriage and proud of it!” He works for Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn., owned by Capella Healthcare, Inc., a for-profit health system. His one “organizational”connection? He and his family are members of Epiphany Episcopal Church.

Or look at Bill Flores, the candidate for the 17th Congressional District in Texas. Flores became CFO of Marine Drilling and later CEO of Phoenix Exploration, players in the oil and gas industry. His campaign website lauds his having created “more than 500 AMERICAN jobs with AMERICAN companies that helped and produce much needed AMERICAN energy resources to help fuel our economy” [caps his]. Flores has more charitable connections than DesJarlais, creating the “Flores Fish Camp endowment” that helps Texas A&M (his alma mater) freshman attend a four-day orientation (costing $160 per person). Flores cites having contributed to local charities in the Bryan/College Station, Texas area, including the Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, and the Community Foundation, but he provides most specific documentation of a 2007 donation of $100,000 to the U.S. Army to help wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. The campaign site also describes him as a “significant supporter” of private schools such as the Yellowstone Academy in Houston’s Third Ward. Yellowstone is a faith-based K-8 school that is entirely supported by charitable donations. His one organizational membership? Central Baptist Church of Bryan.

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Both DesJarlais and Flores make it clear that they are self-made men, Flores putting himself through Texas A&M, DesJarlais the son of a barber who worked in a local car dealership’s service shop to pay for his education at the University of South Dakota. They and their freshman Congressional compatriots have scant exposure to the segments of the nonprofit sector that serve as major venues for the delivery of government human service programs or for advocacy for changes in social and economic disparities. They worked their way to success, they succeeded in the for-profit business sector, they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. They didn’t seek or get help from the nonprofit sector—and they don’t acknowledge the role of big government as the foundation undergirding their college educations or, in the experience of Dr. DesJarlais, paying for the health expenses of his Medicaid and Medicare patients. 

In contrast to the last two classes of Congressional victors in 2006 and 2008, the freshman class of 2010 brings an exceptionally narrow and shallow range of nonprofit experience to their jobs. A Nonprofit Quarterly review of over 80 potential Republican winners found relatively few with nonprofit jobs on their resumes. Few have current or recent board positions with nonprofits. For the most part, they connect to the nonprofit sector as members of business and employee organizations, groups that are likely 501(c)(6) business or professional associations. 

With public charities, the new members of Congress have been volunteers, good neighbors working with kids in sports for example, but they don’t show much connection with nonprofits that engage in government-supported human service delivery. They show relatively little connection to nonprofits as issue advocates except by demonstrating that they function without government support—a favorite issue for Republicans. Where they promote their connection to organizations, in many cases, the organizations are their churches or nonprofit-structured ministries, frequently organizations that exist outside of and resist practices around disclosure and inclusion. 

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but by and large, this is a class of new members of Congress who don’t know the nonprofit sector as public charities or private foundations. Nonprofits will have to quickly come to grips with the reality that people with little experience in the nonprofit sector—and often little experience in public policy—will be making policy large and small about the future of nonprofits. 

While much of public policy may be strangled amidst a likely gridlock between a Republican House, a barely Democratic Senate, and a shell-shocked Democratic White House, the decisions that do get made by these people could reverberate to the detriment of nonprofits fundamentally because they don’t “get” what nonprofits do, how they operate, how they are funded, and how Congressional decisions might impact the nonprofit sector. 

This will be a scary crew of deliberators who don’t possess much of a nonprofit lens.

A Closer Look
Nonprofit Quarterlyexamined the nonprofit connections of 82 potential new members of Congress likely to upend Democratic incumbents or take seats previously held by Democrats. We picked candidates who looked like potentially good bets to win in races rated by various sources as toss-ups, leaning Republican, or clearly moving into the Republican column. Some will obviously lose as Dems here and there survive their electoral scares, while other insurgent Republicans we thought might lose could well upset heavy favorites.

We looked at the biographies of the candidates on the website of Project Vote Smart which lists candidates education, professional experience, political experience, and “organizations”—the latter generally their nonprofit or religious organization positions and memberships. We also looked at the candidates’ campaign websites, downloading their own biographical statements, which generally mentioned more of their relationships as volunteers or donors with charitable and religious organizations than officially noted on Project Vote Smart. In addition to those sources, we researched each candidate’s roles as an employee or board member of a nonprofit organization using GuideStar’s “people search” function.

The nonprofit connections of the incoming Republican class are what they themselves identify and publicize. 

The Small Business Class
Amidst their protestations that they aren’t professional politicians, at least one-third are members of state legislatures and two, Ohio’s Steve Chabot and New Hampshire’s Charlie Bass, are former members of Congress. But most are not professional politicians. Like former Republican senator Bill Frist and current Republican senator Tom Coburn, many are medical professionals, motivated by their opposition to “ObamaCare,” though without the significant medical charity credentials of Frist who frequently led medical teams into underserved areas of the developing world. The medical professionals in this list besides DesJarlais include Nan Hayworth, a doctor running in New York’s 19th, Joe Heck, a physician running in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, Nancy Ellmers, a nurse in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Dr. Larry Bucshon in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District, Dan Banishek in Northern Michigan, Andy Harris, a doctor from Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, dentist Paul Gosar running for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, and Diane Black with 40 years as a nurse before becoming a state senator in Tennessee. 

Many from the incoming class are small business people, owning auto dealerships like Scott Rigell who ran for Congress representing the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, Mike Kelly from Butler, Pennsylvania who owns a Chevrolet dealership, Stephen Fincher from Frog Jump, Tennessee who is a managing partner in a family farm, Bob Gibbs running for the 18th Congressional District in Ohio having been owner/operator of Hidden Hollow Farms, Vicky Hartzler in Missouri co-owning a farm equipment business, Andy Vidak from the 20th Congressional District in California’s Central Valley who co-owns a lettuce cooling facility, Bobby Schilling who owns Saint Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza in Moline Illinois, Reid Ribble with business experience as a roofing contractor running in Wisconsin’s 8th District, Quico Canseco from Laredo Texas who builds shopping centers, and Richard Hanna from New York’s 24th District who is connected to the funeral home industry. While not exactly corner store or local gas station owners, they are small business people in one sense, but most have more employees than would qualify for Small Business Administration (SBA) assistance from the big government that they all profess to detest. 

Doctors, nurses, lawyers, CPAs, career military officers, and business people, these candidates are frequently newborn politicians with strong small business bents.  Their approaches to the nonprofit sector are frequently similar to a small business which might support local sports programs in general as well as sports programs specifically targeted to children with special needs. For example, Tim Burns, running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District around Johnstown, Penn. was a director of the “Amazing Bike Camp” in 2008 teaching disabled children to ride two-wheel bicycles and running the Burns family's "The Rink of Dreams" skating program for kids with special needs. Several members have baseball or hockey programs typical of the kinds of local charities supported by Main Street merchants. 

In terms of formal nonprofits, they are members, officers, and directors of the kinds of fraternal clubs and associations that are dominated by local business people, and used by local business people for building connections and relationships:

  • Rotary Club: Steven Palazzo (Biloxi, Mississippi, 4th CD); Kevin Yoder (Hutchinson, Kansas, 3rd CD); Robert Hurt (Virginia 5th); Diane Black (Tennessee); Mick Mulvaney (Indian Lands, South Carolina); Tom Reed (New York 29th, Corning, New York); Charlie Bass (Monadnock, New Hampshire);
  • Kiwanis: Steve Southerland (Panama City, Florida); Dennis Ross (Lakeland, Florida 12th CD); Tim Walberg (Michigan 7th); Mike Fitzpatrick (Williamsport, Pennsylvania 8th);
  • Knights of Columbus: Mike Fitzpatrick; Joe Heck (Nevada); Jeff Landry (Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District, representing New Iberia); Andy Harris (Maryland’s 1st); Chris Gibson (20th CD in New York).

Even more representative of the small business DNA of these candidates are their memberships in local Chambers of Commerce—one-fourth of them are members or officers of, in some cases, multiple chambers. Several are also members of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) or members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The majority of these new Congressmen and Congresswomen are also members of trade associations and professional associations, particularly medical societies, bar associations, and accounting groups. 

This is the freshman class of the rural, small city, and mid-sized city small business sector, banding together in fraternal and business associations that feel like the classic portrayal of small town burghers in Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt in the fictional town of Zenith. Like Babbitt, conformity, boosterism, materialism, and the American Dream undergird the small business associations of these new policy-makers—and perhaps their sense of the content and role of the nonprofit sector. 

Expressions of Nonprofit Religion
Roughly one-fourth of these candidates received explicit endorsements from the Tea Party Express, the most politically active of the Tea Party organization networks, though the Express endorsed many other candidates who failed to make it through the primaries. Nonetheless, whether carrying official Tea Party endorsements or not, these candidates largely articulate the same platform as the Tea Party activists who adore the visions of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Dick Armey. The Tea Party movement portrays itself as secular, focusing on issues of government spending and taxation, but the new incoming class of Republicans expresses much of its tax exempt activism through churches and faith-based nonprofits.

This isn’t the faith-based charity movement of President George W. Bush who was motivated to find ways of shoehorning churches into greater shares of federal government human service contracts. These candidates aren’t pitching for a new Compassion Capital Fund, but rather for churches to be used as resources and refuges for people in need. This new movement is rooted in the tax exempt religious sector, more so than the press coverage during the election has led the public to believe. 

The focus on Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell’s brief teenage foray into the Wiccan beliefs overshadowed a much more important dimension of the incoming class of Republicans, rooted in a fundamentalist Christian organizational framework. Working through churches constitutes a bedrock component of the nongovernmental activism of these new members of Congress, critical to their identities and their credibility with voters:

  • Justin Amash, endorsed by the Tea Party makes his religious belief clear on his campaign website: “Justin and his family are committed Christians. Justin's Christian faith is an important part of who he is. It informs his values, principles, and dedication to contributing to his neighbors and country through the political process. As a pro-life conservative, Justin believes that unborn children are human beings endowed with a right to life that no one may take from them.” Grand Rapids is one of the nation’s most pervasively and publicly Christian cities, making Amash’s religious profession a requirement of a successful Congressional candidacy there.
  • In the 14th Congressional District of Illinois (the DuPage County area) there is Randy Hultgren. His bio identifies himas a board member of “Koinonia Ministry.” Koinonia House National Ministries is a (c)(3) dedicated to “equipping the Church to love our Christian neighbors coming out of prison.” Koinonia makes it clear that it accepts no government money for its operations. Hultgren apparently is board president of Outreach Community Ministries, a Christian human service delivery organization, which does accept government grants (constituting approximately one-fourth of the organization’s revenues).
  • Reid Ribble of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District attended but did not graduate from the Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music, turning from an intended ministry profession to roof contracting. His religious engagement continues, however, through his board membership with Evangel Ministries, a 501(c)(3) that operates three Christian radio stations in Wisconsin. He is also chairman of Life Promotions, aiming to help young people through running “value-based public school assembly programs” and “teaming up with churches and organizations to promote life in Christ and present the Gospel through faith-based events and festivals.” Not surprisingly, Evangel is financed without government funding.
  • Tim Walberg of Michigan’s 7th Congressional District attended the Moody Bible Institute and worked as a division manager at the Institute just four years ago. He lists as his profession “nondenominational minister.” His campaign biography lists him as a member of the board of directors of the Christian Family Foundation, though no such organization exists on GuideStar (we are guessing that it is the Christian Family Foundation program created by the Orville D. & Ruth A. Merillat Foundation of Adrian, Michigan, which gave the program more than $14 million between 1999 and 2004—and gave small grants to Walberg’s church, Trenton Hills United Brethren Church).
  • Newly elected Texas congressman Bill Flores actively promotes at least three private religious schools in and around Houston, Yellowstone Academy, Faith Lutheran School, and Fort Bend Baptist Academy.
  • A spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri in 2004, Missouri 4th Congressional District candidate Vicky Hartzler learned enough from that experience to author a book titled, “Running God’s Way: Step by Step to a Successful Political Campaign” meant “to encourage and equip more people with integrity to get involved in the political process.”
  • Distinct from the numerous candidates who say they are active members or lay leaders in their churches, Georgia’s Mike Keown is a Baptist preacher in the 2nd Congressional District. Explaining his Christian faith on his campaign website, Keown says, “I . . . ride a motorcycle, drive a dirt track race car on Saturday nights, have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and I love to fish and hunt. I am a Christian, pro-life, pro-family, pro-second amendment, pro-military candidate that believes in less government, less taxes, securing our borders and finally doing something about illegal immigration . . . and I just happen to be one of those people who still believes America is the greatest country on the face of the earth!” (Keown’s race against incumbent Congressman Sanford Bishop was too close to call as of early Wednesday morning). 

These candidates and others paint a picture of Christian church activism with relatively little direct support from government programs. As advocates for restrained government funding, they might end up cutting back federal government funding that many established faith-based nonprofits typically use in their service delivery programs. 

But finding ways for government to indirectly support religious groups, for example, tax credits and vouchers for private religious institutions, is likely in the cards for the freshman class. Promoting the mixture of their faith and their politics, these electees will probably also favor scrapping the prohibition against church electioneering. The pastors behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, have good reason to cheer as the freshman class of Republicans likely takes up their argument against the Internal Revenue Service. 

Small Town and Rural Nonprofits
Part of the Tea Party movement’s complaint about Congress, both Democratic and Republican members, is the elitism of the establishment. In comparison with the educational backgrounds of many of President Obama’s top advisors, few of these insurgent Republicans boast elite Ivy League degrees. However, the detested elitism of the establishment may be more about urban and suburban orientation rather than educational pedigrees.

The nonprofit credentials of the incoming class show a distinctively strong rural and small town character that is mostly missing across the aisle. Examples include the following:

Boasting 4-H backgrounds are Jaime Herrera (Washington State 3rd CD), Bill Flores, Kristi Noem (South Dakota), Steve Pearce (2nd CD, New Mexico), Rick Berg (North Dakota), and Rick Crawford (1st CD, Arkansas), just to name a few. Other rural nonprofit connections of the candidates include Vicky Hartzler with the Missouri Farm Bureau, Kristi Noem with several agricultural nonprofit connections, Bob Gibbs (Ohio 22nd) with a number of farm bureau connections, Dan Webster (who defeated Alan Grayson in Florida) a member of the farm bureau, Cory Gardner from Colorado’s 4th CD having worked for the National Corn Growers Association, Rick Crawford serving as a broadcast council member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting, and several others.

Somewhat quiet in this election has been a longtime pillar of the Republican Party, the National Rifle Association, but among the incoming Republican freshmen, the NRA is well represented along with other related organizations including Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and more. The NRA did not get much attention in this election cycle as Democrats soft-pedaled their traditional support for gun control, but the incoming Republicans are aligned with the NRA and voluble in their affection for guns. 

The shift isn’t from the Ivy League to state colleges, but from urban and suburban nonprofits to small town and rural nonprofits—and to small town and rural farm associations. The “metronations” concept that has been influential among foundations since the 2008 elections—the notion that government should concentrate public investment in the top 100 metropolitan areas that account for perhaps nine-tenths of the nation’s economic activity—doesn’t sway the incoming Republican class with roots in the regions outside of those investment targets. 

Rural America feels slighted by public policy and by charity and philanthropy—the rural nonprofits many know have been excluded from the mainstream of philanthropic support and public policy attention. Some of that feeling might be carried to Congress by its newest members. 

Traditional Nonprofits
Despite the small town boosterism of many of the freshmen electees, one of the mainstays of widely supported nonprofit sector involvement is strikingly missing in this group. While they might contribute through payroll deduction on the job, very few of the new members of Congress tout their roles as board members or fundraisers for local United Way organizations. This is a sharp contrast to previous freshman classes.

Rather than the United Way, the most common traditional nonprofit on the resumes of the incoming class is the Boy Scouts, followed by the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Y, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a variety of the charities addressing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and veterans organizations (the latter may be due to the large number of candidates with recent military service). This does not add up to a diverse range of public charities. 

The Boy Scouts and the Boys & Girls Clubs are not necessarily among the most socially progressive charities. However, both raise challenges for these new members. The Boy Scouts have been subjected to challenges and limitations regarding their use of public facilities because of their discrimination against gay scout leaders and kids. Will the new members challenge that? It would seem likely and logical. 

The Boys & Girls Club pose a challenge to what the incoming class believes government should do. This is a Congressional class pledged to government funding retrenchment and rescission, but the Boys & Girls Clubs have been big time winners of lucrative Congressional earmarks—though questioned by Senator Grassley at the Senate Finance Committee about what they have done with the earmarks, whether they have delivered on their pledges, and why they need the earmarks given their huge charitable fundraising prowess. Will the small-government members of Congress, many pledged against earmarks of all sorts, be willing to deny the Boys & Girls Clubs access to their Congressional largesse? 

Philanthropy in the Freshmen Class
There isn’t much connection of these members of Congress to grantmaking foundations (as opposed to fundraising foundations such as the private foundations established by universities or hospitals). A few appear to have had some connection to community foundations—Bill Flores with the Community Foundation of the Brazos Valley, Richard Hanna with the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, and Morgan Griffith with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, for example.

Moreover, few appear to have sat as trustees of private grantmaking foundations. Two on our list—other than Ben Quayle’s (son of former Vice President Dan Quayle) Arizona family foundation—have their own private foundations.

The Canseco Foundation of San Antonio, Texas, associated with Quico Canseco’s family, is a small foundation and a very small grantmaker. With only $1.7 million in assets, the Canseco Foundation’s grantmaking in 2009 was $93,000. In nearby New Mexico, the Stevan & Cynthia Pearce Charitable Foundation is also tiny, with $1.2 million in assets and $94,000 in grants. Both foundations predominantly gave to religious charities and schools, including in Canseco’s case eponymous scholarship programs.

This is not a strong philanthropic resume for the incoming freshman class of Congress. While institutional philanthropy nationally is charting increasing roles in social change and social justice, the minimal direct philanthropic involvement of the new Republican members is in tiny grants largely to religious organizations. There may be little common ground and little understanding of philanthropy in this new class.

Storm Clouds and Hope
The nation’s most virulent anti-immigrant community—under the guise of being opposed to “illegal” immigrants—has long been Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Its draconian laws convinced many of the city’s Latinos to pack up and leave, with those who remained feeling uncomfortable and threatened. The former mayor of Hazleton, Lou Barletta, finally made it into Congress with this election having run and lost twice previously. 

Barletta’s candidacy is a bellwether anti-immigrant election. He is on the National Board of Advisors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a virulent group trying to restrict immigration. He might be the most virulent anti-immigrant member of the freshman class, but he is joined by others whose platforms promised strident opposition to immigration reform. That bodes poorly for immigrants who have already been given the short end of public policies such as health care reform and education. 

If nonprofits are going to look for members of the incoming class as potential allies, they have to look for the few that have connections and commitments to social change and social justice. It might be worthwhile for nonprofits to knock on the doors of these incoming members:

  • Several such as Tim Wahlberg, Diane Black, Bill Flores, and Richard Hanna have involvement with affiliates of Habitat for Humanity, which has taken much more visible social change and public policy positions in recent years, especially as it opened up its operations to government subsidies and even HUD earmarks;
  • Randy Hultgren, new Congressman in the Illinois 14th CD, has a board position on the DuPage Homeownership Center;
  • Quico Canseco due to his board role at Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA);
  • Mike Kelly in Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District because of his board memberships with the Butler County Housing Authority and the Redevelopment Authority;
  • Despite his Cato Institute membership, Richard Hanna for his founding Annie’s Fund, dedicated to grants for women.

This is a thin reed, a short list of people for nonprofits to seek out and cultivate as allies. Not only is there scant connection in the freshman class to the United Way, there are no connections to community development corporations (other than Habitat), no connections to community action agencies (other than Barletta’s association with Can-Do in Pennsylvania), no connections to workforce development nonprofits, and few other handles suggesting that social change nonprofits might find freshmen Congressman with an ear to offer.

Overall, the new freshman class of Republicans presents a scary phenomenon for American nonprofits. They have a limited exposure to most of the nonprofit sector. These new members of Congress generally work with nonprofits that rely significantly, sometimes exclusively on private charitable giving rather than functioning in partnership with government to deliver public services. Many of their nonprofit connections are for professional and business self-interest, created to protect narrow interests rather than promote a more inclusive, diverse public interest. 

With limited exposure to the diversity of the nonprofit sector, these new members of Congress could well push for public policy changes that adversely impact nonprofits, opening up churches to tax exempt partisan electioneering, maintaining and strengthening the secrecy of donations to 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) groups trying to affect elections, and reducing government funding that nonprofits use in conjunction with charitable and philanthropic giving to serve people in need. 

The new members of Congress elected on November 2nd represent a big step backwards for charities and foundations. It will take strategically smart organizing and advocacy to protect the nonprofit sector from public policies that inadvertently or intentionally reverse nonprofit advances. Who would have thought that Congressional gridlock might be the best ally of the nonprofit sector for the next two years, gridlock that might stymie progress but stop retrograde policies that might undo nonprofit protections and undermine nonprofit resources? 

For media inquiries contact National Correspondent, Rick Cohen, 202-657-3743