Destroying The Integrity Of Nonprofits

The recently passed so-called stimulus law contains dire threats of which most Americans are unaware. The law, containing untold billions for nonprofits, vastly lubricates an already slippery slope that will destroy the independence and integrity of America’s nonprofit sector.

Under the legislation, our country’s vast network of nonprofit organizations — groups that serve our spiritual needs, help mitigate poverty, care for seniors and disabled veterans, and work to cure disease — would become increasingly dependent on the government, and increasingly subject to the whims of the party in power. Unfortunately, this is neither the first nor the last step.

Two institutions historically have provided a check on abuses of power by politicians and government: nonprofits and the news media. Both have been imperfect but essential critics and watchdogs of political abuses for one reason: they have remained independent from the government.

Nonprofits such as churches, educational institutions, unions, and charities have been critical players in issues such as slavery, segregation, workplace issues, conservation, prison reform, protecting the Constitution, health and safety, life and death, and nearly every issue affecting our freedom from overzealous government.

One of the first steps of any dictatorial regime is to control the dissemination of information, especially about government. We certainly wouldn’t trust the objectivity of news agencies if scores of them were to be financed even partly by the government. As a general rule, take government money, and you become an adjunct of government.

Nonprofits, which are important to the marketplace of ideas, are no different. Taxpayer funding of nonprofits not only increases their dependency on government, it buys the silence of nonprofits when they would otherwise criticize politicians, or creates a cheerleading squad for the agenda of those in power.

Easy money, i.e., taxpayer money, institutionally weakens nonprofits’ desire and even ability to find other sources of funding. And like addicts, they become hooked to the point they are willing to sacrifice their principles and do whatever it takes to get the next fix.

The result has been that many so-called non-ideological charities have become sycophants to political power and the taxpayer money that flows from it. This should trouble anyone who understands and appreciates the importance of an independent nonprofit community.

There are, of course, nonprofits known for their ideology on the left and right. We not only expect them to promote partisan policies, it’s healthy for our society. But that should be done with private money. Thomas Jefferson called it sinful and tyrannical to compel financial support for causes one opposes and abhors. Taxpayer money to supposedly non-ideological charities, however, is creating unhealthy sycophantism.

The recently passed spending bill was controversial not merely because of its record-breaking size. It was especially partisan and lacked transparency. Practically nobody, including members of Congress, read it, knows where all the money will go or can safely predict its impact.

The bill not merely substantially increases our national debt, it seems to have made already nervous money continue to flee from markets, adding losses to people’s 401(k)s and other assets. The entire impact of this one bill is yet to be felt, of course, but the net and ultimate damage could be in the trillions.

Nevertheless, so-called non-ideological charities such as American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Catholic Charities USA and others praised the bill. American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown called it "a historic victory."

Wow. What an insult to the political and economic sensibilities of at least half of America. I was outraged. Supporting the spending of taxpayer dollars in such a politically ugly fashion, on the backs of future generations to boot, and they still want our contributions? Don’t come asking for mine, brothers and sisters; you’ve already taken it from me — and my grandchildren.

The present financial needs of nonprofits are important, but adding to the record-breaking budget deficit and federal debt is not just irresponsible, it’s greed. One nonprofit advisor was even candid enough to write, "the first reaction of any organization to a stream of $1.2 trillion is, how shall I get my share?"

Many Americans will continue to contribute to charities on the public dole, even ones that support controversial, even objectionable policies. But many Americans also will view these charities in a different light, and as part of the problems in Washington where many of them are based, and not coincidentally I might add. It matters little whether lobbyists’ obtaining billions of taxpayer dollars for pet projects wear Gucci or Birkenstock.

I suspect many, like myself, will withhold voluntary support because these charities support policies that in our opinion harm our larger society despite their good intentions for their narrower purposes. The independence of private groups with public purposes such as nonprofits is one thing that separates America from totalitarian countries. As nonprofits become just another voice for and extension of the government, they will lose our respect.

Charities feeding at the government table are undermining the very foundations of our democracy, and are aiding in the dismantling of our freedoms. NPT

Richard A. Viguerie pioneered political direct mail and has been called "one of the creators of the modern conservative movement" (The Nation magazine) and one of the "conservatives of the century" (The Washington Times).