Robert Egger is mad [and so are we!] about the Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and unions — but not nonprofits — to spend unlimited monies on political campaigns. In this Reader OpEd he tells us his ideas about what to do about it:
For the last four years, I’ve been wondering what it would take to unite the nonprofit sector in America.
In 2007, at the start of the first Presidential election in almost 80 years in which there was no incumbent in the race, nonprofits could have used this competitive climate to develop a strategy that compelled all candidates to earn our collective votes. By pushing for a plan for America that included a defined role for our 1.4 million nonprofits, we could have repositioned the sector as a deep well of previously untapped, economic energy. We did not.
In 2008, when 29 states posted over $45 billion in deficits and legislators began to make deep budget cuts, the opportunity was again present. As funding for once sacrosanct programs — from senior healthcare to education — was slashed, nonprofits could have joined forces to ensure that vital services and critical needs were met. We remained divided.
And in 2009, when state budget deficits exploded by over 300% and lawmakers began to explore taxing nonprofit property or imposing other cash generating fees, I eagerly awaited the moment when enlightened self-interest would spur a sorely-needed, strategic dialogue among organizations in every community. It never came.
And now this: two weeks ago, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Citizens United v. FEC, which granted political free-speech rights to corporations and unions, but excluded groups granted 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service. This means that the 14 million employees of organizations who train the unemployed, shelter homeless vets, sustain the arts, protect our environment, care for the sick, feed the poor, channel the energy and ideals of 60 million volunteers annually must sit on the sidelines and bear witness to a process that relies on our work, yet excludes our voice.
Does that make you mad? It should. Does that make you want to do something? It must.
Does it make you want to be part of real change? It can – and here’s how.
A once-in-a-generation opportunity
This year — 2010 — is the once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift the political calculus. Of the 50 states of our Union, 36 will elect governors. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for re-election. One-third of the Senate seats are in play. All this is happening at a unique moment in American history: when every candidate, no matter their past political success or outside contributions must detail their plan to resurrect the America economy.
We nonprofits generate almost 10% of the GNP and pay billions in taxes.Â This is our opening.Â We must reframe our role on the national, state and city level by organizing around one simple axiom: no plan for economic recovery can be considered viable unless it incorporates the economic power and potential of the nonprofit sector.
And it all starts with you.
Make no mistake–our collective fate is in the balance, which is why we must now channel our collective power. As individual citizens, you have the power to speak with candidates who would ask for your vote.
In every city and state, nonprofits must use every means to communicate this commitment. Our entire country needs to understand how deeply our work is woven into the fabric of our national history and how imperative we are to ensuring our country’s future.
A national media campaign — led by you
To accomplish this, we must all participate in an ambitious national media campaign. Write editorials. Submit letters to the editor. Redesign your organizational materials so that every aspect of your work reflects on our combined accomplishments. Use new media outlets with audacity. If a candidate says something visionary about how they would partner with you–spread the word and urge other candidates to compete.
Many have talked about nonprofit mergers this year. Well, now is the time for us to merge our voices. If you do not belong to a state association, then join. If you belong to a state association, ask its leadership to stop speaking about you, and tell them to start speaking for you. Every association you belong to — whether on affordable housing or museums — must take up this call. When advocates call for your help, put everything else down and answer that call.
But you can also be part of a national movement. Beginning this month, the V3 Campaign is launching campaigns in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Michigan and is working to establish efforts in two more states.
In each case, we are partnering with local organizations to launch statewide movements so that voters will know how candidates have pledged (or not) to utilize the energy and entrepreneurial sprit of the nonprofit sector.
- If you work or volunteer in a nonprofit in one of these states, join the effort and make sure your colleagues have signed up to receive alerts from the V3 Campaign. If you are a nonprofit leader in one of these states, contact us.
- If you do not live in one of these states, the V3 Campaign website will be providing updates on political campaigns in every state. We’re launching a Twitter wire service, so that V3 will get constant updates on what candidates are saying in every community. Through this strategy, we hope to accomplish one thing: toÂ knock down the first domino.
All it takes is for one candidate to pledge to have a Lieutenant Governor or Deputy Mayor for Philanthropy, and others will follow. All it takes is for two candidates to openly compete for our votes, and others will follow. All it will take is for the votes of nonprofits to swing a race, and others will follow.
In a year in which elections could be swayed by those who would place dividends before citizens, we must come to realize that the combined voices of the nonprofit sector could be the only force in America that can offset this imbalance and ensure open, fair and compelling campaigns.
If you believe, as I do, that America’s future is at stake, and that nonprofits have a stake in that future, then stand up, stand together and make this the year that all of America’s assets are included in the fight.
Robert Egger founded the DC Central Kitchen and the V3 Campaign, a coalition dedicated to the Voice, Value and Votes of the nonprofit sector. He does not like broccoli. He loves avocados: “In Louisville, where my folks retrired, there’s a famous restaurant — Lynn’s Paradise Cafe — where they make an insane, 100% local, Bacon & Avocado Sandwich. Just thinking about makes me drool.”