September 4, 2012

Obama Has Mixed Record on Nonprofits, Report Says

Chronicle of Philanthropy says budget constraints led to some disappointments

Obama signing his health care law, which many nonprofits support. (Photo: AP) Obama signing his health care law, which many nonprofits support. (Photo: AP)

As President Obama arrives in Charlotte, N.C., to accept his party’s nomination for a second term, the charitable giving community—like so many of the president’s early supporters—is ambivalent about his record.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy this week examined his record on key issues that matter to nonprofits and foundations, and found many things to their liking and others that raised hackles.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, gave $172,130 to charity in 2011, or 22% of their adjusted gross income, the report said. The bulk of that money went to the Fisher House Foundation, which gives housing to service members and their families while they are getting medical treatment.

The report noted that the $787 billion economic stimulus law benefited nonprofits in such areas as social services, housing, Head Start and the arts.

During his first term, the president strongly supported and signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which called for expansion of the AmeriCorps national service program and created a fund to help nonprofits expand effective programs, recruit volunteers and train managers of small nonprofits. But the report noted that "deficit-cutting pressures in Congress have curtailed much of the spending that was envisaged in the legislation."

The president opposed efforts by anti-abortion proponents to curtail federal spending on Planned Parenthood, and he rescinded the so-called Mexico City Policy, which barred nonprofits receiving U.S. government aid from providing abortion services in other countries.

In addition, his health care overhaul found support among many nonprofits and charities, which are helping put it in place, the report said.

The president has proposed flat or increased spending in the 2013 budget on many safety-net programs.

He has also proposed tiny spending increases next year for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and flat spending for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

On the international front, he has supported foreign aid as “the right thing to do,” and proposed increased international aid spending of 2% in 2013.

The president also ruffled feathers during his first term. Many charity leaders strongly opposed several proposals to limit the value of the charitable deduction for high-earning households and individuals as a way to cut the budget deficit or pay for jobs programs.

The administration would require earners of more than $1 million to pay at least 30% in taxes, but would not disadvantage those who make large charitable contributions.

Some advocacy groups were up in arms after the White House issued rules limiting the ability of registered lobbyists, including those for nonprofits, to secure administration jobs.

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