imageWe’re used to hearing about politicians trolling for campaign contributions. This has posed a particular problem for public interest nonprofits—it’s hard for them to compete with large corporations that use strategic gifts to help sway legislation, regulation, and policy decisions. Campaign donations haven’t been such a problem for other charities, which don’t view politicians as competition for dollars because campaign contributions aren’t tax deductible.  But, surprise, the President has just made some of his fundraising a problem for all nonprofits. 

President Bush is asking for a billion dollars in foundation grants and other tax deductible charitable contributions to replace the much-needed funding he has egregiously failed to give our national parks for years and years.

Leaders have long called upon institutional and individual donors–-you and me–-to cover dwindling government funding for nonprofits that provide basic human services and attend to other public needs. But in February, the President led the federal government into direct competition with those very nonprofits for the very grants and individual donations they depend on to pick up some of the slack.

And he’s done this while giving the wealthiest one percent of households over a trillion dollars in tax cuts, and denying those missing funds for use on the nation’s most critical problems!

Our national parks and many, many Americans are in trouble today because of the fiscal policies of the Bush administration (see this illuminating Center for Budget and Policy Priorities slideshow), and the nonprofit and philanthropic community would be foolish to think that increased altruism could be an adequate substitute for responsible government.

Public policies and public institutions do much to create and exacerbate problems, and private action for the public good must take that into account when it seeks remediation or remedy. We can do a great deal through voluntary initiative, but we cannot replace public agency. And it’ll take more than new park benches with shiny plaques to save government!

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image Mark Rosenman is a public service professor at the Union Institute & University, where he has long worked in various roles. He sees his 20-plus years of initiative to strengthen the nonprofit sector as an extension of earlier professional efforts in the civil rights movement, urban anti-poverty work, international and domestic program development, and higher education.