Dean Zerbe Announces Resignation from the Senate

Dean Zerbe, senior counsel to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), announced on January 23 that he will be resigning from his position at the end of February.  In his position with Sen. Grassley, current Ranking Member and former Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Zerbe was a leading figure in the drafting and passage of recent charitable reforms, including the Pension Protection Act of 2006.  He also led several high profile investigations of charity abuses, which many nonprofit insiders felt unfairly tainted the public image of the nonprofit sector.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in a June 9, 2005 article, had the following to say about Zerbe:

  • Zerbe "says he is confident that his work will lead to significant overhaul of nonprofit laws."
  • About nonprofit officials, Zerbe said, "I’ve never seen so much lazy intellectualism.  …  I don’t know when these charity people are going to get it, but we need to build more accountability into the nonprofit world if people are going to get these big tax breaks."
  • "While Mr. Zerbe’s methods do not always sit well with nonprofit officials, his work has drawn the respect of many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill and at federal agencies."

I had the opportunity to hear Zerbe speak to a small group of nonprofit legal and accounting professionals last year at the San Francisco Foundation.  While I found him to be smart, engaging, and driven, I believe that Zerbe has done more harm to the nonprofit sector than good.  And I’m a strong believer in the need for charitable reforms.  My opinion is based on how Zerbe and the charitable reform legislation he initiated was focused on a very small segment of charities engaged in wrongdoing and sometimes broadly villainized the sector as a whole.