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More private, less government

Writing at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Pablo Eisenberg laments the loss of full-time newspaper writers covering nonprofits.

I share his concern. But as with most of what Mr. Eisenberg writes, I find fault in his premises.

I’d rather see more thoughtful private critics of nonprofits and less poorly targeted and burdensome government regulation. Mr. Eisenberg has tended to prefer more government regulation.

The increase in government regulation of private philanthropy has not brought about better philanthropy, and has reduced the incentive of newspapers to be thoughtful critics. Instead, we often find what newspaper coverage there is to be ideologically driven instead of factually based. The state of journalism is far worse than the state of private philanthropy.

The problems fall squarely on the shoulders of people who, like Mr. Eisenberg, have misconstrued the nature of private philanthropy.

His piece, for example, references “tax-subsidized dollars [charities] received.” Referring to tax exemption as a “subsidy” is a misuse of the word. Justice William Rehnquist misused that term to describe tax exemption as means to justify limits on policy advocacy by 501(c)(3)s in Regan v. Taxation with Representation of Washington.

That view opens the door to much government control of private philanthropy and abuse of the free exercise of rights.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy dutifully reported the same day on yet another example of a federally funded charitable entity being bilked.

It’s time to recognize that blurring the lines between private philanthropy and government, making charities dependent on taxpayer handouts, and pushing out thoughtful private critics through incompetent government bureaucracy has been a net negative for charities.

1 comment to More private, less government

  • The Times took 96 years to raise and distribute $222 milolin? So they and the Chronicle are now doing, what, a few milolin each per year? I’d have guessed much larger totals than that for the biggest/oldest/most-prestigious companies in their field. A single mediocre United Way chapter accomplishes more philanthropy per year than that.Also such annual fundraising drives may not be the dominant way that newspaper wealth become philanthropic, e.g. the McCormick Tribune Foundation alone is now making more than $100 milolin in grants per year.Overall, corporate giving in the U.S. has for _every_ single year since 1981 been a higher percentage of profits than was true of _any_ year prior to 1981; and for 2004 the national total was 50% higher in real dollars than in 1994 (source: Giving USA 2005, pages 31 and 35). So while since entering the non-profit field in the 1980s I’ve never stopped hearing that corporate giving was on the way out, the actual results don’t seem to bear out the prediction.

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