How the War on Terror Hurts Charities …

Grantmakers Without Borders, a philanthropic network dedicated to increasing funding for international social justice and environmental sustainability, and OMB Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog organization dedicated to promoting government accountability, citizen participation in public policy decision, and the use of fiscal regulatory policy to serve the public interest, have collaborated research to produce “Collateral Damage: How the War on Terror Hurts Charities, Foundations, and the People They Serve.” The paper is authored by Kay Guinane (OMG Watch Director of Nonprofit Speech Rights), Vanessa Dick (Grantmakers Without Border Advocacy Coordinator) and Amanda Adams (OMB Watch Nonprofit Speech Rights Policy Analyst). The paper was produced in hopes that “[it] will serve as a resource for charities, foundations, and policymakers as they seek to understand the impacts that counterterrorism measures have on charities and as they look to develop more equitable policies that protect the inherent rights of charities and the people the organizations serve.”

The paper focuses on how the recent expansion of the government’s counterterrorism powers though the USA PATRIOT Act following the September 11, 2001 attacks have caused charities and foundations to be “caught in the crossfire” of strengthened financial controls and expanding surveillance and prosecutorial powers. According to the paper, nonprofits are now facing a plethora of problems including a court system overly deferential to the Department of Treasury, allegations of terrorism based on only “reasonable suspicions” and “secret… unsubstantiated evidence,” increasingly broad and vague definitions of illegal behavior, and rhetoric tactics by the Treasury against the nonprofit sector. The authors highlight that these are more than just barriers but barriers with increasingly apparent negative effects such as charities and foundations avoiding politically sensitive areas of the world, burdensome investigation by charities into their partners or grantees, and “the ultimate losers in this scenario,” the millions of people who rely on the livelihood of these threatened nonprofits.

The authors attempt to tell “the story of the war on terror through the experiences of the U.S. non profit sector” by addressing five main topics: (1) the harsh counterterrorism laws applied to nonprofits and the limited success of those who challenge them, (2) the minimal due process rights available to the organizations affected, (3) the false assumptions in support of these counterterrorism laws to nonprofits, (4) the negative impacts of the current laws and false assumptions on the nonprofit sector, and (5) their suggestions as to the next steps for both the U.S. government and the U.S. nonprofit sector that are necessary to devise a better system.

Through this paper, the authors intend to “set the historical record straight, raise awareness of a growing problem, and stimulate dialog about reasonable, long-term reforms.” The authors hope to debunk the U.S. Government’s current “myopic view of the U.S. nonprofit sector, only recognizing it as a potential conduit for terrorist funding or a breeding ground for aggressive dissent.” They instead want to recognize how nonprofits can be an ally in the “war on terrorism” and provoke a reevaluation of the laws and policies that emerged as emergency responses seven years ago that are becoming increasing incompatible with long-term strategies and solutions.

A pdf copy of the paper is available here.

– Emily Chan