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Shaking the foundations

- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 11, 2008

Despite our society's significant strides in accepting blacks and other minorities, supporters of race and gender preferences continue to try to perpetuate 1950s attitudes by creatively developing new concerns. Their goal: to expand preferential treatment policies.

In California, private, public and corporate charitable foundations are now being targeted for allegedly not doing enough for minority-run groups. "The Foundation Diversity and Transparency Act" (AB 624), which passed in the California Assembly and is awaiting a vote in the state Senate, would require charitable foundations with assets of $250 million or more to report the race, sex and sexual preferences of its staff, board of directors and grant recipients in the foundation's annual report and on its website. Foundations failing to comply could be subject to fines, legal action and possible revocation of their non-profit status. One group supporting AB 624 is The Greenlining Institute, a left-wing public policy organization headquartered in the radical enclave of Berkeley. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the group alleges that minorities are not sufficiently represented in California policy debates. Operating on the notion that this is because minority groups don't have enough money, AB 624 is being sought as a tactic to "shame" foundations into donating more money to minority-led entities.

Why rely on merit when charitable giving can be mandated through the force of law?

The Greenling Institute agenda is clear: use the race card to hijack the power of the state and force charities to fund liberal organizations under the guise of helping minorities.

Like all government meddling, AB 624 will unleash negative consequences. Foundations will be burdened with additional compliance costs. Researching the race, sex and sexual preferences of grant recipients would be time-consuming and waste money better spent on serving the goals of the foundation. Collecting and disclosing such personal information also is a violation of privacy.

Implementation of AB 624 may also deter individuals and companies from establishing philanthropic foundations in the first place. The Greenlining goal is to "shame" foundations. Why establish a foundation with advance knowledge that it will be harassed if it doesn't give away its money in the prescribed, politically-correct manner? Ironically, by seeking to increase donations to certain groups, this legislation may actually result in a chilling effect on overall philanthropy and harm all deserving grant recipients.

While AB 624 only initially affects large foundations, which probably can afford to comply, this is not likely to end. For one thing, there's a likelihood requirements will someday be expanded to cover smaller foundations. Furthermore, California's AB 624 could be a model for lawmakers elsewhere.

California lawmakers would be well-served to read "Not Yours to Give," an essay by the American icon Colonel Davy Crockett recently reprinted by the Foundation for Economic Education. While serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee, Mr. Crockett was challenged by a citizen after a vote to appropriate money for a naval officer's widow. The constituent believed it was not the function of government to be in the charity business, and Mr. Crockett's essay conveys the importance of government's limited role in charity. Since Mr. Crockett's time, the government has overridden this concern.

Given the current economic conditions, more U.S. households are likely to seek charitable assistance. With AB 624, the government is about to make matters worse by interfering in the giving policies of charitable institutions.

Private citizens who are willing to share their wealth should have the freedom to establish foundations based on their personal values and intent. Private donors forced to meet diversity quotas are essentially being subjected to a government-mandated shakedown.

Charities and foundations frequently provide a stepping-stone for the needy. AB 624 would be a stumbling block in their path. Our nation is more equal and accepting than ever before. Allowing a divisive proposal such as AB 624 to advance under the radar would turn back time.

Deneen Borelli is a fellow for the Project 21 black leadership network.