Whatever one thinks of President Trump, most of our countrymen would agree with his statement in his Inaugural Address that “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.”
This hope appears out of reach for all too many. Millions of children are being held back by failing schools, families are collapsing, and more Americans are dying from drug overdoses than traffic accidents or guns. Our current systems for protecting and advancing the American Dream aren’t working. As Nicholas Eberstadt writes in Commentary magazine, “if our nation’s work rate today were back up to its start-of-the-century highs, well over 10 million more Americans would currently have paying jobs.”
Can Washington alone fix these problems? Of course not. The freedom to experiment in philanthropy is an essential ingredient for our nation to find solutions to these challenges. So long as Americans remain free to give, smart philanthropy can continue to innovate and help find answers for these crises.
And this is an important reason for one of our core guiding principles at The Philanthropy Roundtable: “Philanthropic freedom is central to a free society.”
If you are involved with a foundation, donor-advised fund, or other form of charitable giving, our mission at the Roundtable and our legislative arm the Alliance for Charitable Reform is to protect your freedom. Your freedom to support an unpopular cause. To develop and test an unconventional hypothesis. To participate in the policy debate without fear of IRS harassment. To give without burdensome and frivolous regulation. To spend down your assets, or to establish a perpetual endowment. To choose your grantees, including in this time of America First, your freedom to give overseas. And to protect your independence of action, we are committed to protecting your freedom to choose your own board and staff, and your freedom to decide what to disclose about your philanthropic strategy and with whom.
Protecting your freedom requires keeping charitable assets out of the control of politicians. This is the 100th anniversary of the charitable deduction, and we call on President Trump and the new Congress to protect the full scope and value of the charitable deduction in their tax reform proposals—even better, to universalize the deduction so it is available to all, including non-itemizers. Since 1917, America has recognized the value of the charitable deduction, which has served as the bedrock of our altruistic society and is a model for the world. It’s also an important protection for the independence of private organizations. The deduction tells political leaders that money given to charity is not theirs, but belongs to civil society.
It is good to have allies in this battle. This is a tumultuous time in our political culture, and on many issues of national debate today, members of the Roundtable will take different positions than those of the Council on Foundations and Independent Sector. But our three institutions all agree that charitable giving is central to American life, and we are working together to protect charitable giving incentives. Our three organizations were a key part of a coalition that brought 200 charity leaders from 37 states to Capitol Hill on a single day in
February to meet with Members of Congress of both parties and to describe the crucial importance of the charitable deduction for their states and districts.
The Philanthropy Roundtable is also committed to protecting your right as an individual to give anonymously, a right Americans have enjoyed throughout our history. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1958 in NAACP v. Alabama that the right to give anonymously is fundamental to the freedom of association protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. As Karl Zinsmeister and Sean Parnell show in this issue of Philanthropy, this historic right is under attack now, including from the attorneys general of California and New York as well as state legislators of both parties across the nation. The Roundtable has filed amicus briefs in three important cases designed to confirm and build on the NAACP decision. We are working closely with organizations such as State Policy Network, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Center for Competitive Politics. And we hope that our friends in the progressive and social justice communities will join us in building a broad coalition to protect this fundamental freedom.
Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.