WLF Counsel's Advisory
Florida Law Strikes Blow For Philanthropic Freedom
By Terrence Scanlon
October 15, 2010 (Vol. 18 No. 5)
Earlier this year Florida successfully beat back an attempt by activists intending to lay the foundation for the "ACORNization" of philanthropy in the Sunshine State. Their goal was to make it easier to impose philanthropic grant quotas in the future by forcing charities to publicly disclose sensitive information such as the race, gender, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation, of its employees, officers, directors, trustees, and members. See Matthew Vadum, "The Future of Philanthropy in Florida," POLICY BRIEF, No. 5, Dec. 2009, available at http://www.jamesmadison.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/materials/2010_LegislativeReport.pdf, n. 8. Activists reasoned that the mandatory public disclosure of this information would have provided ammunition for further campaigns that would have allowed them to shame foundations into surrendering to their demands.
Leading the push was Al Piña, a self-described "community reinvestment mercenary." Piña heads the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition (FMCRC), a group that wanted foundation grants to be allocated according to a race-based spoils system. The group drew inspiration from the Berkeley, California-based Greenlining Institute, its larger and better established counterpart. Orson Aguilar, associate director of the Greenlining Institute, explained how such a redistribution system might work: "We think that foundations have a lot of power in society today. So what we want is to make sure that foundation dollars are reaching our communities so that we can be active decision-makers, discussion makers, that we can be voters, that we can influence the democracy that we live in. So that's basically what we're asking for, equal opportunities, equal dollar amounts." Id. at n. 15.
The FMCRC alleged there was a "gap" in foundation philanthropy in Florida "that not only affects minority families and communities, but all of Florida." Id. at n 16. Piña said that people of a specific race take better care of other members of the same race than outsiders. "No one can convince me that United Way provides better service directly to minorities than a minority-led organization," he said. "We're in the trenches. There is no way that [non-minorities] can connect and have more traction and effect than organizations with leaders who live in those communities day in and day out." Id. at n 10.
The Greenlining Institute succeeded in pushing legislation (California AB 624) mandating such disclosures to the brink of final passage in the California legislature. The legislative sponsor withdrew the measure when the foundations affected agreed to make sizeable contributions to causes that bore the Greenlining seal of approval. See John Gizzi, "Race and Gender Quotas for Nonprofits: How California Bill AB 624 Threatens Foundation Philanthropy," FOUNDATION WATCH, July 2008, available at http://www.capitalresearch.org/pubs/pdf/v1215095087.pdf.
Through SB 0998, which was signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist and took effect July 1, 2010, Florida outlawed the mandatory disclosure of the race, religion, gender, national origin, socioeconomic status, age, ethnicity, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or political party registration of its employees, officers, directors, trustees, and members. The measure also prohibited state agencies or local governments from regulating the selection of board members or the distribution of funds of any non-profit or charitable organization.
Terrence Scanlon is President at the Capital Research Center (CRC) in Washington, D.C. CRC was established in 1984 to study the politics of philanthropy, with a special focus on reviving the American traditions of charity, philanthropy, and voluntarism.