Ohio philanthropy takes messages to Capitol Hill

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Last week, Philanthropy Ohio staff and foundation leaders joined over 220 others for the annual Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) event, coming together from across the country to educate policymakers about the important role philanthropy plays in communities and to advocate on a number of key issues.

This was my 20th year of participating in FOTH, which is sponsored by the United Philanthropy Forum, where I co-chair the Public Policy Committee with my colleague Theresa Jacks. We lucked out with sunny, semi-warm weather that made our trek across the Hill and through security checks a more pleasant experience than some past years when we tromped through cold and snow. Another difference from past years: we met with new staff in every office we visited, although there were only two new representatives, Troy Balderson and Anthony Gonzalez. There were lots of young faces with lots of energy but not much – if any – knowledge about the sector or about Philanthropy Ohio. The visits emphasized that we need to continually build relationships with D.C. staff and with those in the districts.

During our meetings in 12 of Ohio’s congressional offices, we discussed the many ways that Ohio’s philanthropies and government both invest in critical areas such as education, health, human services and economic development. We explained how philanthropy is uniquely positioned to take risks in social policy experimentation and innovation, which government and the marketplace cannot. This is because funders have a longer time horizon in which they work and because of their apolitical nature.

During our visits, we asked Ohio’s representatives and senators to support the Universal Charitable Giving Act that would create a universal deduction all Americans could claim above-the-line on their income taxes. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made changes that will result in fewer Americans itemizing their deductions – including those made to charities. In Ohio, about one-quarter of taxpayers make such itemized contributions and those donations could fall off when it is expected that 90 percent of them will no longer itemize. It is too early to gauge the impact but in 2016, 1.1 million Ohioans contributed $5.98 billion to charity, so there’s a lot at stake. The Universal Charitable Giving Act (HR 1260) would help mitigate the anticipated decrease in giving, as we explained in our data sheet.

We also urged the policymakers to sign on to legislation that would repeal the TCJA provision that imposes an unrelated business income tax of 21 percent on the parking and transportation benefits that nonprofit employers – including Philanthropy Ohio – provide to employees. This new, cumbersome tax on tax-exempt organizations poses significant problems and directs dollars away from their missions as it imposes a tax on expenses. It doesn’t make sense to us and so we thanked Reps. Fudge and Beatty for co-sponsoring HR 1223 and urged others to sign on as well.

Whether our meetings were in crowded hallways or offices – or in the case with Senator Brown, on the sidewalk outside the Capitol after a vote – we left each one feeling that we had been heard and maybe even listened to. After putting about 5 miles on our step counters, we left the Hill with a sense of having delivered our messages and built relationships that will yield further results. As Ted Vander Roest, executive director of the Springfield Foundation, chair of Philanthropy Ohio’s Public Policy Committee and first-time FOTH attendee, said, “I actually enjoyed myself!  Not something I would want to do on a regular basis, but it was a learning experience.” 

Maybe not on a regular basis – but next year’s FOTH is already scheduled for March 10 – 11. 

Claudia Y.W. Herrold 
Interim president & CEO
Sr. VP, communications & public policy 

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