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Nonprofit news roundup for May 9, 2008

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Legislators may require fee from rich universities

Massachusetts legislators have asked state finance officers to consider a plan that would impose a 2.5 percent annual assessment on universities with endowments of more than $1 billion, thereby bolstering the state’s coffers by more than $1 billion a year from nine schools, The Boston Globe reported May 8. Lawmakers say the schools’ rising fortunes undercut their nonprofit status, but the universities say the tax would damage “stable bedrock institutions” that have helped shield the region from the economic slowdown, The Wall Street Journal reported May 9.

Ministers agree to defy tax law with political preaching

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based conservative legal-advocacy group, is signing on a group of ministers to defy a tax law that bars churches from preaching for or against political candidates, The Wall Street Journal reported May 9. The group is hoping to spark a court battle that would declare the tax provision unconstitutional.

U.S. suspends Myanmar aid; first lady criticized

The U.S. has suspended aid to victims of the Myanmar cyclone after the country’s military government seized food and supplies it had already sent, The New York Times reported May 10. First Lady Laura Bush should not have “bushwhacked” Myanmar with “toothless U.S. policy positions” in a recent speech when the ability of U.S. aid groups to reach cyclone victims is at stake, Richard Walden, president and CEO of Operation USA, said in a blog at The Huffington Post May 5.

Direct mail draws complaints

A third of all complaints about charity fundraising focus on “junk mail,” more than double the complaints about face-to-face street fundraising, the BBC reported May 7. The guilt invoked by the unsolicited “gifts” that come with direct-mail pleas is a misguided fundraising ploy, Loretta Lay said in a column in The Times Herald of Port Huron, Mich. May 7.

Digital library defeats FBI information request

The Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, has successfully fought an FBI attempt to seize information about one of its patrons, The Associated Press reported May 7. The San Francisco group is calling on others to challenge such “national security letters” that demand customer information without a judge’s approval.

‘Philanthrocapitalism’ in denial?

“Philanthrocapitalism” is enmeshed in two contradictions: it draws its funds from a system of inequality that allows a “cherished few” to amass unfathomable wealth, and it fails to acknowledge the downsides of the “so-called development” it seeks to bring to poor countries, Kavita N. Ramdas, president and CEO at the Global Fund for Women, said in a column at OpenDemocracy.net April 25. Motivated by the same “fix-the-problem” mentality that drives hedge-fund managers, this new philanthropy fails to acknowledge the nuance of the systems that create disparities such as gender inequality, Ramdas said.

Queen Rania pushes sustainability over charity

Queen Rania of Jordon says Arab countries need to move away from the idea of charitable giving toward long-term social investment, targeting her comments at both private corporations and sovereign wealth funds, the huge national investment funds many Middle Eastern countries create with excess oil profits, The Associated Press reported April 7. She also hopes a  sustainability scheme under development by a group of Middle Eastern companies would not adversely affect regional minorities, Radio Netherlands reported May 8.

In Brief:

* California nonprofits could be affected by pending bills that would regulate disaster-response liability, wine donations, bingo, fund management and dissolution, paid sick leave and retirement, The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported May 8.

* The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $3 million for emergency relief in Myanmar, The Associated Press reported May 9.

* Two British aviation charities have lost a U.S. court battle, thereby failing to establish the practice of donating unclaimed funds from class-action suits to related charities, a practice common in the U.S. but unprecedented in Britain, Professional Fundraising reported April 7.

* United Jewish Communities passed a plan to cut 37 jobs and end programs, while adding an extra $3 million in services, JTA reported April 7.

* A $50-million national workforce program received a boost valued at $11.35 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Microsoft, The Washington Post reported May 8.

* Prague officials are considering a proposal by a Czech human-rights group to rename a prominent city street after slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, The Prague Post reported May 7.

* The Starr Foundation is suing the insurer that controls it, the former American International Group Inc., or AIG, alleging the company misrepresented the its exposure to credit default swaps that resulted in multibillion-dollar losses, Reuters reported May 8.

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