I know that I typically write about the arts, but this issue could be so detrimental to the nonprofit industry as a whole that I felt compelled to discuss it.
A new bill has passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives which, if passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, would have a serious impact on how nonprofits do their business. While the bill itself is only targeting animal-rights charities right now, what the legislation represents is a slippery slope that must be avoided — and the impulse to pass the bill addressed. If other states start adopting these kinds of bills, then it will set a new standard in nonprofit governance — that it is the state, not the Federal government, that can regulate nonprofit businesses in this country. The implications of that paradigm shift, which may be unconstitutional, could be disastrous, especially since there are many nonprofits that have programs and services that do not just exist within the state where the organization was incorporated.
This bill, HB2250, states that…
No animal rights charitable organization, professional fundraiser for an animal rights charitable organization or professional solicitor employed or retained by a professional fundraiser for an animal rights charitable organization shall engage in the solicitation of contributions from any person in this state intended to be used on program services or functional expenses outside of this state or for political purposes inside or outside this state.
I have to be honest here: I don’t exactly understand how this bill would work. Not only are there local animal charities that provide services outside of Oklahoma, but there are many national organizations that provide services in and out of the state as well. Would such organizations not be able to fundraise in Oklahoma because they provide services worldwide?
Here’s an example. The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation saves dogs from abuse or abandonment and trains them to become rescue dogs for both national and international disasters. We have some of these dogs in Oklahoma; they have been on the scene for several of the tornadoes that the state is famous for. These dogs have also been deployed considerably far away from Oklahoma, too — to Japan in 2011 after the earthquake there; to Joplin, MO, also in 2011, after devastating tornadoes there. I think you would be hard-pressed to make a case that this organization can only, or should only, raise funds for rescue dogs for disasters in Oklahoma.We are supposed to be one nation. That was one of the things making America great.
Since when did it become the responsibility of any state legislature to decide which are the programs a nonprofit can fundraise for? Nonprofit corporations are already under strict Federal regulations about advocacy and lobbying from the Internal Revenue Service. Federally audit requirements are, in part, to ensure that those nonprofits are using donated funds for the stated purpose of that donation. (To be fair, there are state requirements around audits, too.) The point is, if this bill here in Oklahoma were to pass, it would effectively open the door for states across the nation to pass legislation limiting the ability and legality of nonprofits to raise funds to support their mission.
Here’s another example that’s even, for me, closer to home. Many dance companies tour both nationally and internationally. These dance companies almost always need to raise funds to help cover the costs of that touring — and because their local patrons want more of the world to see their local dance company perform, they donate. All the Oklahoma House of Representatives would need to do is simply change the wording of HB2250 to include dance or performing arts companies instead of animal rights charities and they — we — would no longer be able to raise those funds.
It is very scary when state governments start to meddle in the business of nonprofits. If the donors have no issue with where their contributions are going, why in the world would state government?