Reflections: 2019 PolicyWorks Institute & Foundations on the Hill

Monday, April 1, 2019

Portland, Maine - Four members of the MPC network journeyed to Washington, D.C. from March 11-13 to participate in the United Philanthropy Forum’s 2019 PolicyWorks Institute and Foundations on the Hill events, which annually bring hundreds of foundation leaders from across the country to meet with Congress and discuss issues of critical importance to philanthropy.

This year’s MPC delegation to Washington included Erin Cinelli (Executive Director, Emanuel & Pauline A. Lerner Foundation), Barbara Edmond (President, Maine Philanthropy Center), Marty Grohman (Trustee, The Betterment Fund) and Jeb Murphy (Communications Associate, Maine Health Access Foundation). While in the nation’s capital, they not only networked with other foundation personnel working on advocacy and public policy, but also called upon all four members of Maine’s federal Congressional delegation: Representatives Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree and Senators Susan Collins and Angus King.

Jeb Murphy appreciated having “a huge variety of experiences—everything from one-on-one visits to coffees with large groups of people in attendance.” He found it valuable to meet colleagues from diverse organizations and hear perspectives he otherwise might not have, if he had not participated in the trip. Erin Cinelli, who had never been to The Hill or engaged in advocacy before, also reported that the time in Washington was productive. She found the event’s “Hill Visits 101” orientation sessions especially useful, because they offered concrete guidance about how to approach lawmakers. Erin noted how inspiring it was to learn that “other organizations like the Maine Philanthropy Center—and also issue-oriented funders—are deeply involved in advocacy and public policy work. It was great to hear that other funders are really engaging on issues, rather than shying away.”

A seasoned pro at Foundations on the Hill, Barbara Edmond commented upon how much advocacy-related momentum has built up over the last few years. In her words, “People [on The Hill] knew we were coming and treated us with a great deal of respect.” Of course, it didn’t hurt that MPC delegation members knew people in so many offices—which only reinforced Barbara’s belief that Maine is really “just a big small town.”

The networking may have been enjoyable, but the most important parts of the trip involved meeting with government officials. Members of Maine’s delegation to Foundations on the Hill emphasized several key messages in their visits with key legislators:

  • The significance of philanthropy. In talking with policymakers, the Maine team emphasized that philanthropic organizations want to partner with government—in part because private philanthropy will never be able to supplant or serve as a substitute for federal funding. When it comes to advancing the social good, government and funders can maximize effectiveness by working together.
  • Support for the Johnson Amendment. Maine’s delegation encouraged legislators to safeguard the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for office, making campaign contributions, or coordinating activities with candidates, Political Action Committees, and/or political parties. For more than 60 years, this amendment has been a valuable protection that keeps charitable nonprofits, religious institutions, and foundations focused on their missions, rather than diverting their time, money, and other resources to engage in partisan politics.
  • The importance of an accurate Census 2020 count. Maine’s team emphasized that funders want to help ensure an accurate count for the 2020 census—especially now that President Trump’s budget allots only $7.8 billion to not only complete the census, but also run the Census Bureau. Many experts think that it will take $8.6 billion to ensure an accurate census count alone.
  • Seeking repeal for a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that subjects nonprofits to a 21% unrelated business income tax (UBIT) on parking- and transportation-related benefits offered to employees. According to Barbara Edmond, “We learned while we were in Washington that both Senators Collins and King had agreed to co-sponsor a bill to repeal UBIT provisions. After hearing that positive news, we felt especially good about being there and being able to educate, because the UBIT issue had slipped by a lot of people.”
  • Support for the Universal Charitable Income Tax Deduction, which would provide an above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions of individuals who do not elect to itemize deductions on their taxes. Recalling the Maine delegation’s messaging about this issue, Barbara Edmond said, “Now that tax reform has gone through, and people aren't able to itemize as easily, we put in an appeal saying that we are concerned about the future of American generosity. We think that individuals of all economic backgrounds should have the opportunity to receive a tax deduction for their charitable donations.”

As he reviewed his 2019 PolicyWorks Institute and Foundations on the Hill experience, Marty Grohman took great pride in all that was accomplished. “The networking was unbelievable,” he said. “It’s fantastic to see that advocacy is becoming such an important focus for so many funders. It will be key for us to think about the long game and develop relationships that will allow us to engage in advocacy work over the long haul.” 


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