Still in the Dark: Why Philanthropy Remains a Black Box — Inside Philanthropy

When I started Inside Philanthropy 18 months ago, I was certainly interested in the age-old questions about transparency and accountability in the sector, but I can’t say I was preoccupied with them. To me, the most exciting stories are about how funders are trying to solve big problems, often in new ways. I still think that, and IP tries to tell those stories every day at a moment when more cool funders are doing more cool things than ever.

Over time, though, I’ve become ever more frustrated by just how hard it is to gauge what philanthropists are doing or who in this sector is having the most impact.

Compared to earlier times, I know the sector is doing a better job of assessing itself. And I know that more answers are now available to certain questions, like how grantees perceive funders, what kinds of collaborations are most successful, how best to evaluate grants, and so on. All that’s a good thing, and the pioneers of that work—like the Center for Effective Philanthropy—have moved the ball forward in impressive ways.

via Still in the Dark: Why Philanthropy Remains a Black Box – Inside Philanthropy: Fundraising Intelligence – Inside Philanthropy.

Who Will Watch the Charities? by David Callahan

LAST week federal authorities disclosed that four cancer charities had bilked tens of millions of dollars from donors. Questions continue to surface about the lack of transparency at the Clinton Foundation. Philanthropy, we’re learning, is a world with too much secrecy and too little oversight. Despite its increasing role in American society, from education to the arts to the media, perhaps no sector is less accountable to outsiders.

The charitable sector is a bit like the Wild West — by design. Foundations have long been granted expansive freedom, on the view that the diversity of America’s civil society is one of the country’s signature strengths, as Alexis de Tocqueville famously said, and that government shouldn’t mess with this magic. Both political parties have been content to impose a minimum of rules on philanthropy.

via Who Will Watch the Charities? –

Whitehouse Calls for Tax Fairness and an End to Tax Haven Abuse by Corporations

From the Whitehouse Press Office:

Congressman Doggett, Senator Whitehouse Introduce Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act. The bill closes a number of offshore tax loopholes, eliminates many tax incentives for U.S. companies to move jobs and operations offshore, and modifies rules on corporate inversions for businesses dodging U.S. taxes.

“While most Americans contribute their fair share to our national security and vital public services, some large corporations still are not,” said Doggett. “They revel in single digit effective tax rates, and in some years, many pay their lobbyists more than they pay in federal taxes. Corporations that renounce their citizenship not only invert their business operations but pervert our tax laws. This bill is a step toward righting some of these inequities and ensuring that taxpaying small businesses are provided a more level playing field.”

“Big corporations shouldn’t be allowed to play games with the tax code and benefit from shipping jobs overseas,” Whitehouse said. “This bill would force corporations that are dodging their responsibilities to pay their fair share of taxes, and create an even playing field for American companies that already play by the rules.”

The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that provisions similar to those in this bill would raise at least $278 billion in revenue over ten years. More than two dozen of the largest profitable corporations paid no federal taxes at all over a recent five-year period. Among the many provisions of this bill are some recommendations contained in President Obama’s previous Budget Proposals. Find a full summary of the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act House version here.

The bill is one of three “tax fairness” measures introduced by Whitehouse today, which he hopes will help shape the upcoming debate on tax reform.

Petition Channel 12 WPRI: Let Abel Collins into the Debate |

I am not sure what is causing Channel 12 to keep Abel Collins out of their upcoming debate for the Congressional seat in District 2. One hopes it is not some unholy alliance between big media and big politicians in Rhode Island, but one can never be sure. With enough pressure, Channel 12 will likely cave (she said optimistically) so please sign the petition. This is not a democrat or republican, liberal or conservative issue — this is a fairness and accuracy in elections issue that everyone should be concerned about.

Petition | Channel 12 WPRI: Let Abel Collins into the Debate |

America, Whose Country Are You? 26 Billionaires Who Are Buying the 2012 Election

Here’s an eye-opener from Vermont’s Bernie Sanders: a report on the 26 men who have spent $61 Billion dollars in this year’s election.

Here is a list of the billionaires:

1. Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands Casino, is worth nearly $25 billion, making him the 14th wealthiest person in the world and the 7th richest person in America.

While median family income plummeted by nearly 40% from 2007-2010, Mr. Adelson has experienced a nearly eightfold increase in his wealth over the past three years (from $3.4 billion to $24.9 billion).

Forbes recently reported that Adelson is willing to spend a “limitless” amount of money or more than $100 million to help defeat President Obama in November.

While $100 million sounds like a lot, it equals the same percentage of Adelson’s wealth that $300 to $400 does for the typical middle class family (with a net worth of about $77,000).

Sheldon Adelson owns more wealth than the bottom 40.2% of American households or 47.2 million American families.

2. The Kochs (David, Charles, and William) are worth a combined $103 billion, according to Forbes. They have pledged to spend about $400 million during the 2012 election season.

The Kochs own more wealth than the bottom 41.7 percent of American households or more than 49 million Americans.

3. Jim Walton is worth $23.7 billion. He has donated $300,000 to super PACs in 2012.
4. Harold Simmons is worth $9 billion. He has donated $15.2 million to super PACs this year.
5. Peter Thiel is worth $1.5 billion. He has donated $6.7 million to Super PACs this year.
6. Jerrold Perenchio is worth $2.3 billion. He has donated $2.6 million to super PACs this year.
7. Kenneth Griffin is worth $3 billion and he has given $2.08 million to super PACs in 2012.
8. James Simons is worth $10.7 billion and he has given $1.5 million to super Pacs this year.
9. Julian Robertson is worth $2.5 billion and he has given $1.25 million to super PACs this year.
10. Robert Rowling is worth $4.8 billion and he has given $1.1 million to super PACs.
11. John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made his fortune betting that the sub-prime mortgage market would collapse, is worth $12.5 billion. He has donated $1 million to super PACs.
12. Richard and J.W. Marriott are worth a combined $3.1 billion and they have donated $2 million to super PACs this year.
13. James Davis is worth $1.9 billion and he has given $1 million to super PACs this year.
14. Harold Hamm is worth $11 billion and he has given $985,000 to super PACs this year.
15. Kenny Trout is worth more than $1.2 billion and he has given $900,000 to super PACs this year.
16. Louis Bacon is worth $1.4 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year.
17. Bruce Kovner is worth $4.5 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year.
18. Warren Stephens is worth $2.7 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year.
19. David Tepper is worth $5.1 billion and he has given $375,000 to super PACs this year.
20. Samuel Zell is worth $4.9 billion and he has given $270,000 to super PACs this year.
21. Leslie Wexner is worth $4.3 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year.
22. Charles Schwab is worth $3.5 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year.
23. Kelcy Warren is worth $2.3 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year.

Full report here.

Whitehouse Tries to Get DISCLOSE Passed in Worst Congress ever

While being a member of Congress definitely has its benefits, it seems to be a pretty frustrating job these days. Take, for instance, this article by Ezra Klein outlining why this is the worst Congress ever:

14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.

Nevertheless, some people are trying to get work done, or at least make it look that way. In fact, some are willing to stay up all night if that’s what it takes to get some attention:

Senate Democrats to Hold “Midnight Vigil” on DISCLOSE Act

If GOP Blocks Effort to End Secret Election Spending, Democrats Will Continue Debating Past Midnight and Ask for Second Vote Tomorrow

Washington, DC – With Senate Republicans threatening to block debate this evening on the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Democrats are sending a clear message that they won’t back down easily. If Republicans succeed in blocking a key procedural vote on the measure today, a group of Democrats have pledged to hold onto the Senate floor late into the night tonight in an effort to bring greater attention to the issue and force a second vote on the bill tomorrow.

The late night “midnight vigil” effort will be led by the members of the Citizens United Task Force, which includes U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN). The group was organized by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who will also take part in tonight’s effort.

“We recognize that you don’t win every fight in round one, and this is a fight worth continuing,” said Whitehouse, the lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act. “Putting an end to secret election spending by special interests is an essential step in protecting middle class priorities. For that reason, we are committed to continuing the debate on the DISCLOSE Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be. We can’t let the special interests off the hook after just one round.”

The DISCLOSE Act requires any organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report within 24 hours, identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more. It will require political groups posing as social welfare organizations to disclose their donors and will prevent corporations and other wealthy interests from using shell corporations to funnel secret money to super PACs.

“We are determined to prove that transparency is not a radical concept,” said Udall. “Our bill is as simple and straightforward as it gets – if you are making large donations to influence an election, the voters in that election should know who you are. The American people are blessed with common sense. They know that when someone will not admit to something, it is usually because there is something to hide.”

“This is too important an issue to let it lie quietly,” Shaheen said. “New Hampshire voters were subjected to a flood of negative ads this primary season, many of them fueled by unregulated, secret money. It isn’t right. We need to stand up for accountability and fairness in our politics.”

“Tonight we will debate whether we truly believe in the first three words of our Constitution: ‘We the People.’ The flood of secret money unleashed by Citizens United is drowning out the voice of the people,” said Merkley. “Indeed, those who oppose disclosure are seeking to replace ‘We the People’ with ‘We the Powerful.’ This is wrong in so many ways. It’s way past time to shine a light on the darkness and discover who or what this money really stands for.”

“Coloradans have been inundated with attack ads funded by a small number of people through anonymous groups,” Bennet said. “Disclosure would at least provide information about who is behind these ads and bring accountability that bolsters democracy in our elections. Unfortunately, a minority of senators are poised to block progress on the DISCLOSE Act and prevent necessary transparency in our election system.”

“The DISCLOSE Act will not fix all of the evil effects of Citizens United, but it is certainly a step forward,” said Sen. Franken. “And it will bring much needed sunshine to our political system, which will go a long way toward reducing the number and dishonesty of negative attack ads that further corrode our public dialogue and ultimately threaten our democratic system.”

“We believe that all of the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer. “This legislation seeks to limit the damage of the Supreme Court decision that has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy.”

Individuals are encouraged to follow the floor debate throughout the night on Twitter, using the hashtag #DISCLOSEVote.

David Cobb Speaks in Pawtucket

Last night former Green Party candidate David Cobb spoke at the Pawtucket Public Library on the topic of corporate personhood. Mr.Cobb is an organizer for Move to Amend, a citizen’s response to the Citizen’s United decision that, in layman’s terms, says corporations are people just like you and me. Really big people. Who speak money as a first language.

Cobb is a lawyer, and did review the history and uses of corporations, pointing out that all of the 13 original colonies were corporations. He outlined the balances and regulations that would bind a corporation to the public good. Including an expiration date.

I like that, seeing as people have expiration dates it’s tough to compete with Immortal Persons.

I have to get to work, so more later. Here’s a Supreme dissent from Citizens United posted on the Move to Amend home page…

“. . . corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

~Supreme Court Justice Stevens, January 2010

David Cobb warmly praised Occupy for bringing the issue of economic justice for ordinary citizens, the 99%, to the debate. He drew a Venn diagram showing that this issue unites the Occupation and the Tea Party. Having attended 3 Town Halls and heard considerable hostility toward the president, ‘illegals’ and the unemployed, I am not so optimistic about finding common ground. I tried to do this with people who saw accessible health care as not only expensive, but a moral threat. Still, it does not serve We the People to be fighting each other over crumbs when concentration of wealth and power allow a few to walk off with the whole cake.

Equal opportunity does not sprinkle down from an Invisible Hand. We have to defend the right to a basic, decent public life from private profiteers. Like pulling weeds, it never ends.