Hurricane Sandy has been one of the largest storms that has hit the Northern East Coast in years. While many were prepared for the storm, many people were not prepared for what the storm would leave. Sandy was at first classified as a tropical storm when it made its way up the East Coast from the Caribbean. However, when reaching the northern East Coast, Sandy because a dangerous storm that spanned almost 1,000 miles. In some states where the weather was colder, Sandy created even larger snowstorms and covered areas with up to 2 feet of snow. In other areas such as New York and New Jersey, rains flooded the area, taking out power lines, trees, and even filling the New York Subway system. In the DMV area, major transportation was shut down and schools cancelled. This hurricane that landed in late October also had its effects on the Presidential election that was to come on November 6. Many campaigns were cancelled as areas were put under evacuation and warning and President Obama took a short hiatus to deal with the storm.

It has been a little over two weeks since the storm, and where has this left the country?

Today many organizations have created relief efforts for those affected by Sandy. The Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation (HSRF) is a non 501(c)3 Non Profit that was founded on October 30, 2012 by victims for the victims. The HSRF are people of the communities hit by the hurricane who saw that they themselves and their neighbors needed help. Thus, they provided resources to local shelters in the area and volunteered to clean up debris and rebuild their own communities. Another organization called Hope for New York was founded with the mission “to provide volunteer and financial resources to organizations serving the poor and marginalized of New York City. Today, they have created a relief effort for those in New York City by helping to channel volunteers who want to donate their time and give them opportunities within the local areas to help clean up, donate, etc. The American Red Cross is currently created a fund to gain financial donation to provide shelter, food, emotional support, and other assistance to victims of the storm. Along with the organizations listed above, there have been many more that are currently assisting in efforts for Hurricane Sandy relief and it is a wonderful thing to see people reaching out and helping others in need.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

-Anne Frank


(MFAN) In an attempt to address the age-old deficiencies in the US government’s record of foreign aid, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) has called on his fellow representatives to look past their political differences to rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Berman, who is a Ranking Member in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, revealed such sentiments in a post to the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network blog on July 25.

“In this tight budget environment, one thing that can unite Democrats and Republicans is a commitment to make our foreign assistance programs more efficient and more effective” he notes in the entry.  “We may have differing views on how much aid to provide and to which countries, but we should all agree to deliver aid in a way that reaches the intended beneficiaries and achieves its desired objectives,” he continues. While Berman admits that certain steps to improve the system have taken place including President Obama’s recent issuance of the Policy Directive on Global Development and the implementation of the Administrator Shah’s “USAID Forward” reform agenda, he emphasizes that the current act is outdated and unfitting for the country’s current political situation.

Berman explains, “It’s an architecture developed during the Cold War to address the problems of the 20th century. Furthermore, “All too often, new laws have been written to circumvent it entirely, exacerbating the problems of fragmentation, duplication, and lack of coordination.”

In light of this, the Congressman revealed in the post that he plans to release a discussion draft of his rewrite in September that should serve as a catalyst for change to the Act. “Although foreign assistance accounts for less than 1 percent of our national budget, we must insist that every penny is used wisely,” he concludes.

(Bloomberg) In an unforeseen announcement last week, the Internal Revenue Service stated that it has officially halted any consideration of enforcing gift taxes on large contributions made to nonprofit political advocacy groups. The decision came as a shock to many as reports of an initial probe surfaced just last May when IRS officials sent letters to five specific donors notifying them that their contributions to such groups were subject to federal gift taxes of up to 35%.

News of the potential tax had set off a flurry of speculation that the IRS might be cracking down on what has become an increasingly popular form of campaign advertisement funding.  In fact, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, nonprofit groups, many of them 501(c)4s, disclosed nearly $300 million in spending on the 2010 midterm election campaigns.

Although advocacy nonprofits have existed for years, Derek Willis explains in his blog for the New York Times that they have been greater investigated since the Supreme Court decided in 2010 to lower barriers to corporate spending on political campaigns following the Citizens United case. In fact, “The I.R.S. clarified the applicability of the gift tax to contributions to such groups in a 1982 ruling, but media reports and tax experts have noted that enforcement has been rare,” and after the case in late 2010, the agency announced that it would give 501(c)(4) groups greater scrutiny in the future,” he continues.

Some have questioned the timing of the gift tax proposition as the 2012 presidential election looms and speculated whether its sudden consideration is due to pressure from the White House. Kelly Philip Erb for Forbes importantly emphasizes in her blog, “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the majority of those dollars appear to have been directed to organizations supporting candidates who ultimately won seats in 2010.”  She continues, “And that makes a number of folks, including key Congressional officials, wonder whether the investigation into those contributions was politically motivated.”

While entirely denying such accusations, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement, Steven T. Miller, hinted in a memo on the agency’s website that while suspended, the investigation has not been fully terminated and may continue at a later time. He cautions, however, that “this is a difficult area with significant legal, administrative and policy implications with respect to which we have little enforcement history.”

(Associated Press) Companies seeking to influence lawmakers have found that it often pays to donate to nonprofits and charities (that are directly supported by government officials, that is). It has been revealed that in 2009 and 2010, corporations and their lobbyists contributed tens of millions of dollars to organizations that have been linked to congressional and executive-branch members, likely with the hopeful intention of gaining legislative influence.

Bill Allison, Editorial Director of the Sunlight Foundation that provided such statistics, emphasizes in the Associated Press the benefit for companies to make such donations. “By giving millions to nonprofits and charities that lawmakers have a connection to, lobbyists and special interests have a very discreet way of currying favor with the members of Congress they’re trying to influence, one that the public is rarely aware of.”

Boeing provides a prime example of such a situation. While lobbying against a rival aerospace company to win a $35 billion government contract, it was revealed that the company simultaneously made a $10,000 donation to the Symphony Orchestra in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Likely non-coincidental, the organization was a favorite of Rep. John Murtha, “the late Pennsylvania Democrat who, as a gatekeeper for the Defense Department’s budget, held a lot of influence over Pentagon contracting,” notes the AP article, and the donation to it significantly aided in the company’s eventual success in winning the contract.

Despite perhaps a questionable ethical dilemma, the scenario is undoubtedly a “win-win.”

(New York TimesKanye West’s charity has closed suddenly and mysteriously, according to an e-mail from Joseph Collins, its former executive director.  The charity was established “to combat the severe dropout problem in schools,” as stated on its website.  The charity’s grant distribution was relatively solid, but when Mr. West’s mother and founder of the charity, Dr. Donda West, died in 2007, it dropped significantly.  Many phone calls and e-mails have gone unanswered, so the official reasoning behind the charity’s closure is still unknown.

For the Royal Couple, Give the Gift of Giving

(MSNBC) Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding plans have been sweeping headlines for months now, with the most recent news being that gift-wise, they prefer charitable donations to china.  Among other organizations, the royal couple listed a U.S. based charity, Peace Players, as a suggested donation opportunity.

Good News for Good Will

(The Atlantic)  2010 proved a better year for charitable giving, with 43% of charities tracking more donations than in 2009, according to a survey by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative.  As we’ve blogged about before and as is obvious, 2008 was a tough year for nonprofits due to the recession.  Various charts and graphs illustrating the NRC’s data show certain outliers to the study, notably that international and religious causes saw the biggest increase in donations, and the most substantial drop in donations was to art charities.

(New York Times)  Smile Train and Operation Smile, who announced a merger February 14, have reportedly called it off.  Frustrated donors and misinformed board members are just some of the dilemmas involved in the controversial merger.  An online petition protesting the merger finally resulted in its end.