More than 240 nonprofit leaders attended the 2017 ACR Summit for Leaders on March 21 where they heard from government officials, congressional staff, and other policy experts about what the charitable sector can do to protect private giving and educate lawmakers about the critical role of charitable giving.
The Summit opened with welcoming remarks and advice from leaders of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, the Council on Foundations, and The Philanthropy Roundtable.
“The coming weeks and months are going to see a great national debate on tax reform. That has its potential upsides…but it also has some challenges for our sector and that’s why we are here this week,” said Adam Meyerson, president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.
“You need to tell your stories about the important role you play to help the people in your representatives’ districts,” advised David Biemesderfer, president and CEO of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers.
“We want members of Congress to think back on these meetings. We want them to know that philanthropy is watching and that we share many of the same priorities,” added Hadar Susskind, vice president of government relations at the Council on Foundations.
The first panel was the congressional panel – often the highest-anticipated panel of the event – where attendees learned firsthand about the perspective of congressional staff and lawmakers on what lies ahead and how the sector can inform the debate.
With the possibility of tax reform as strong as it has been in recent years, growing and maintaining relationships with members of Congress and their staff is essential to defending, and advancing, the sector’s legislative interests. In the second panel at the Summit, ACR Executive Director Sandra Swirski and Sara Barba, senior government relations associate at Urban Swirski and Associates, offered an annual plan — a one-year Roadmap for Action — for connecting with lawmakers in DC and at home.
“There is no better time for tax reform with the House, Senate and the President all leaning in. We need to be ready,” Swirski told the audience.
The third panel featured Marc Short, the legislative affairs director at the White House. Short explained how White House policy is developed and advanced by the staff in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. He also discussed the President’s domestic policy priorities and their intersection with the nonprofit sector. Several topics were discussed including tax reform, the President’s budget, and the Johnson Amendment.
The final panel examined a section of the the House Blueprint to create “A New IRS for the 21st Century.” The section states that “an integral element of this Blueprint will be to rebuild the IRS into a modern and efficient 21st century administrator of the nation’s tax system. The new IRS will have a streamlined structure aligned with the simpler and fairer tax system for families and individuals and businesses of all sizes.” It does not mention the tax-exempt sector and the panelists discussed the concerns and opportunities this new IRS could pose.
“The charitable community is not being served by the current structure of the IRS,” said Marc Owens, partner at Loeb & Loeb and former director of IRS Exempt Organizations Division. “It is not a bad idea to evaluate the IRS oversight of the tax-exempt sector.”
“This represents a unique opportunity to re-examine the relationship of the charitable sector with the IRS,” said Harold Hancock, senior advisor of federal public affairs at McQuireWoods Consulting. “People who have unique ideas on this relationship, take this opportunity.”
Sean Parnell, vice president for public policy at the Philanthropy Roundtable, offered closing remarks to conclude the 2017 ACR Summit for Leaders.
“The Alliance for Charitable Reform would like to be a resource to you. We’d like to be a partner with you as you look at your own public policy agenda, specifically when it comes to looking at things like philanthropic freedom,” Parnell said. “Certainly that includes the tax issues that have taken up a lot of our time today, but we are are also interested in issues related to donor intent, donor privacy and maintaining the independence of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.”