Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bite the Hand that Feeds

After conservatives criticized Amnesty International for calling Gitmo "the gulag of our times," conservatives are now targeting the Red Cross. In a report titled "Are American Interests Being Disserved by the International Committee of the Red Cross?," the Republican Policy Committee questions whether or not the organization "has lost its way." From the Los Angeles Times:
The ICRC is the only organization mandated by international treaty to monitor the observance of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners, and it has the right to visit prisoners. But the GOP report charges that the group has exceeded the bounds of its mission by trying to "reinterpret and expand international law" in favor of terrorists and insurgents; lobbying for arms-control issues that are not within its mandate, such as a ban on the use of land mines; and "inaccurately and unfairly" accusing U.S. officials of not adhering to the Geneva Convention.

I'm amazed that the government can tell this organization that it's lost its way. I'm pretty sure they're very clear on what their mission is. If you don't like what they see, don't criticize the organization - look in the mirror. When ICRC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups are reporting on North Korea, China, or Sudan, they're lauded as courageous organizations who speak truth to power. We can't suddenly wonder about their credentials when the spotlight is turned on us; we should be worried about our own.

It's a disturbing trend to see this kind of rhetoric. One of the more dangerous recommendations the Senate Finance Committee included in its July 2004 white paper on charitable reform was having the tax-exempt status of every charity and foundation reviewed every five years. Adam Meyerson, President of the Philanthropy Roundtable, called this "a serious threat to philanthropic freedom," saying:
This automatic power, unless it is very carefully circumscribed, would be an open invitation for presidential administrations to use the IRS as a weapon against charities and foundations they disagree with philosophically. Even if tax-exempt status were not revoked, a serious IRS challenge to the exemption would tie up in administrative knots a politically disfavored charity or foundation, making it much more difficult to carry out its mission.

Meanwhile, the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal held a discussion in November of last year entitled Philanthropy and the American Regime: Is It Time for Another Congressional Investigation of Tax-Exempt Foundations?, in which Hudson scholar John Fonte advocated another Congressional investigation into American foundations and whether or not their grantmaking served to undermine the American regime. I don't mean to say that any of these occurrences are related, but I do think they contribute to an atmosphere in which it becomes possible to shut down charities not for any financial indiscretion or instance of self-dealing but for what they try to accomplish. If people can go after the Red Cross, of all groups, what marginal grassroots nonprofit stands a chance?

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