November 30, 2004, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m. - Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters
Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal presents
A discussion of John Fonte's essay "Philanthropy and the American Regime: Is It Time for Another Congressional Investigation of Tax-Exempt Foundations?" with commentary by John Earl Haynes and Teresa Odendahl
- "Philanthropy and the American Regime: Is It Time for Another Congressional Investigation of Tax-Exempt Foundations?" by John Fonte, with commentary by John Earl Haynes and Teresa Odendahl (PDF format, 26 pages, 311 KB).
Summary of the Panel Discussion
In the 1950s, Congress twice investigated tax-exempt foundations for funding projects that, some maintained, tended to undermine the American political order. Although it was by far from exemplary on some counts, the second of those efforts, the Reece Committee, was one of the few efforts by an American Congress to go beyond the examination of the purely procedural or mechanical details of foundation operation. Rather, the Reece Committee pursued a much more expansive and substantive question, namely, what is philanthropy’s relationship to the American regime?
In the report of the Reece Committee, released in November 1954, chief counsel Rene Wormser observed that it was fundamental to the entire concept of tax exemption for foundations “that their grants are to be primarily directed to strengthening the structure of the society which creates them.” Almost exactly fifty years later, on November 30, 2004, Hudson Institute's Bradley Center brought together a panel of experts to address the question: Was Wormser right?
To begin the discussion, the Bradley Center asked Hudson Institute’s John Fonte to present his essay “Philanthropy and the American Regime: Is It Time for Another Congressional Investigation of Tax-Exempt Foundations?” Panelists included Georgetown University’s Teresa Odendahl, John Earl Haynes of the Library of Congress, and Dean Zerbe, tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee and an important figure behind 2004 hearings on foundations and the nonprofit sector. Zerbe's off-the-record remarks focused primarily on accountability.
In his essay and in his presentation to the audience, John Fonte set up our question of whether Wormser was right by drawing upon the work of James Ceaser , who elucidated four possible types of relationships that American philanthropy could have to the American regime: (1) “Regime maintenance” consists of philanthropic programs and activities which “strengthen the nation’s political and cultural institutions and help affirm and perpetuate the regime.” (2) “Regime improvement” involves philanthropic efforts to reform and improve the current regime, broadly defined as the American way of life. (3) “Regime transformation” implies that the regime is flawed and must evolve into something different, and that philanthropy should take this as its goal. Finally, (4) “regime revolution” refers to the overthrow of a regime perceived as illegitimate as the goal of philanthropic efforts.
Questions from the Audience
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