The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Has Concerns about Proposed Legislation that Would Politicize Charitable Nonprofits and Foundations

February 2, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits announced today it has concerns about the proposed legislation that could politicize charitable nonprofit organizations and foundations. The legislation, S. 264, H.R. 781 and H.R. 172, would alter longstanding federal law that protects charitable nonprofits and foundations by preventing the organizations from engaging in partisan, election-related activities.

“For more than six decades, charitable nonprofits and foundations have operated under smart rules that guide the way we educate the public and engage in advocacy with our elected officials,” Marnie Taylor, President and CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits said. “Charitable nonprofits have long understood that remaining nonpartisan and politically neutral is key to maintaining strong relationships with donors, volunteers, their own staff, policy makers and the general public. Our number-one concern is that donors and other stakeholders could lose trust in the sector should nonprofits come out in support of particular candidates or political parties.”

Taylor noted that nonprofit engagement in education of the public and advocacy is issues-based rather than focusing on particular candidates or political parties. She believes that work is vital to supporting the work of nonprofits; being involved in electioneering is not.

“Most of the organizations we work with in Oklahoma have very mixed platforms that require assistance and support from policy makers on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “It has been a common-sense approach that helps organizations to remain on a neutral playing field. Nonprofits are Switzerland when it comes to elections.”

She also said that donors want their dollars to advance missions and programs.

“Nonprofits regularly educate the public and advocate for their missions and the people they serve, and we encourage them to do so,” she said. “Moving in this proposed new politicized direction could have a negative impact on philanthropy, both individual and institutional.”

The National Council of Nonprofits, a Washington D.C.-based organization, the largest network of nonprofits in the country (the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits is a member), has also issued a statement “expressing opposition to the latest attempts to politicize charities and foundations.”

“Nonpartisanship is vital to the work of charitable nonprofits,” Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, said in a statement. “Current law is the reason that charitable nonprofits are safe havens from politics, a place where people can come together to actually solve community problems. Although all of these latest proposals [from Congress and the President] are couched in terms relating to churches, in truth, the underlying law is Section 501(c)(3) in the tax code which relates to charitable nonprofits and foundations.”

Taylor said she’d communicated with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), the author of one such bill, and that she looked forward to working with him and sharing the concerns of the broader nonprofit community.

“Sen. Lankford came from the nonprofit sector and has been an ally for us for many different issues,” she said. “We just want to help him understand the possible negative effects this change would have on the broader sector and the overall public.

“We had an advocacy forum just today for nonprofit professionals, volunteers, board members and policy makers. They unanimously let us know that the changes to the regulations would be challenging. I hope that we can find some better language or solutions to help address fears about what is acceptable for nonprofits in the way of advocacy, but current proposals on the table could have a negative effect on the sector.”

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The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits is the state’s preeminent provider of professional development and advocacy services for charitable organizations throughout Oklahoma. The Center is a member of the National Council of Nonprofits, is accredited through the Standards for Excellence Institute in Maryland and has a “Platinum” rating with Guidestar.org. More information about the Center and its programs is available on its website okcnp.org.

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