Fund Raisers Made Bad Political Choices
By Henry Goldstein
Reprinted with permission from The Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 2003

Ms. Paulette Maehara
President and CEO
Association of Fundraising Professionals
1101 King Street, Suite 700
Alexandria, Va. 22314

Dear Paulette:

Congratulations on AFP's role in helping to bring the Charitable Giving Act into being. Legislation that encourages Americans to donate to charity is a very good thing. Everyone knows that.

Would that things were quite so simple, or perhaps I just don't get the big picture.

First, there is the troubling decision by AFP's political-action committee to give $1,000 to Sen. Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, even after he made this comment about homosexual relationships: “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”

Yes, Senator Santorum was a key player in drafting and herding the charitable-giving legislation through the Senate. But why, after a statement like that, would a diverse organization whose members are supposedly devoted to making the world a better place give a nickel to an outed homophobe?

Clearly, your PAC thinks the appearance of political power trumps decency.

Next: This administration can pass a budget-busting tax cut, eviscerate domestic social services, health care, education, the arts, and then become annoyingly pious about private sources picking up the slack through charitable giving? As if government has no further role or responsibility in building a civil society. Where was the PAC's statement on that?

Then there's the fact that in the bill that will probably become law the foundations get to keep their 5-percent payout rate essentially unchanged. The big foundations lobbied vigorously against what would have effectively been a 1-percent or 2-percent increase and provided charities with billions of dollars annually in new grants. AFP let the ball whiz by on that one as well.

Lastly, the fracas over the president's faith-based initiative became so controversial that it was excised from the House version of the bill. As far as I know, AFP never said a word because it was prepared to accept just about any bill in just about any form, arguing that the modest benefits to donors, and the good bump for the Bush administration, justified everything else. If that's big-picture thinking, I, for sure, don't get the big picture.

But what is most reprehensible is that Mr. Santorum got his money, which is curious to say the least. I know on a fishing boat you tip the mate if he cleans your fish, and I always leave a dollar a day for the chambermaid. So I know about tipping the help. But innocent as I am in the ways of Washington, I didn't know you tipped senators for doing what they're paid to do, which I have heard described as “the people's business.”

I was and remain deeply offended by the senator's remarks. I protested to you, and to all the AFP-PAC board members. I urged you and the PAC board not to make that contribution. I knew the check had not yet been cut. You assured me that there just wasn't very much flak from AFP's 26,000 members. As if most of them could pass a pop quiz on who and what “their” PAC supports. Until now.

In July, the AFP-PAC board met and unanimously reaffirmed its decision to tip the senator, an apparent case of sheep fever passing as political sophistication.

I received a very courteous letter from the chairman, explaining the board's earnest deliberations. The tone was that of a nephew speaking to a venerated but stone-deaf aunt who had gone quite round the bend. So Senator Santorum has cashed his check by now, I suppose, and, I am willing to bet, with no condemnation of his statement by anyone on the board of the association's PAC.

That brings me to my donation to the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy.

I think my pledge is $750. I want to increase that so I can renege on $1,000, for there is symmetry in the world, some intended, some not. I am protesting with my wallet, and I really hope other foundation donors will consider doing the same.

They will, of course, be told that the PAC raises its own money, and that it is totally separate from AFP. But you and I understand that this is an example of how something can be a fact and not be true at the same time. AFP controls the PAC, AFP members serve on the PAC board, and AFP staff members run it. But does it represent the association's membership? That's arguable.

The PAC has raised about $18,000, a small amount of money in Washington, but even token appreciation can be significant, and may account for the PAC board's reasoning. But I rather doubt that thanking Rick Santorum is going to bring us very much benefit and will undoubtedly bring us some shame.

Moreover, if the association must be in politics, the real action is at the state level, where a serious lobbying effort, directed at the attorneys general and other regulators, is, to me, a far more pressing concern. That could best be accomplished by our chapters, perhaps with coordinated help from Washington. That I might support.

Meanwhile, I suggest the PAC go out of business, and that AFP get back to its core mission of education, professional advancement, and services to members.

Well, Paulette, summer's over, Congress is back, and you know the old cliché about making laws and making sausage: You don't really want to know how they do it. Anyway, I like sausage, so please pass the Dijon.


Henry Goldstein, president of the Oram Group, a fund-raising consulting company in New York, is a regular contributor to these pages. Click here to send an email.