Nonprofits need to speak up

By John C. McGee

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of George, chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight for the House Ways and Means Committee, is soliciting written comments on sections of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 that apply to exempt organizations.

When I recently received from colleagues a copy of an advisory notice Lewis issued in soliciting the comments, I was reminded that the process by which regulations on tax-exempt organizations are being considered is problematic.

Since 2005, the Senate Finance Committee has been doggedly pursuing a course designed to increase the reporting and regulatory oversight of exempt organizations.

The House has not.

Yet in late summer 2006, when it was passed, 123 pages of the Pension Protection Act were directed at exempt organizations.

How did this happen and where the collateral consequences of those provisions considered?

It appears that Lewis is asking those very questions.

Now is the time for exempt organizations to respond.

It is time not only to respond to this request for comments, but also to remind Congress that regulations do not need to be duplicative, redundant or oppressive.

Now is an opportunity to remind lawmakers that, if enforced, regulations already on the books at the federal, state and local levels can accomplish the goals articulated by the Senate Finance Committee.

Congress should identify gaps in oversight before attempting to correct perceived shortcomings.

It is time to ask Congress to better define its expectation of exempt organizations, and to object to the use of anecdotal information — no matter how egregious the offense — as a reason to enact additional oversight.

Lewis’ invitation provides exempt organizations an opportunity to:

* Focus on a process that will promote the sector, enhance its credibility and retard efforts to empower the IRS with unprecedented oversight powers.

* Recapture the debate.

* Comment on the expected – donor-advised funds, supporting organizations and other big-ticket items.

* Explain the burdens caused by requirements to receipt cash donations to insure their tax-deductibility.

* Question efforts to identify agencies whose income is under $25,000 and will now need to report.

* Ask why Congress passed regulations wrapped inside legislation that no reasonable person would expect to contain a significant section regulating an entirely different industry

* Speak as individual organizations and as groups.

John C. McGee is executive director of the Family Relations Program in Gainesville, Ga.

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