The Nonprofiteer has never had much time for people who want to change the name of the sector to something non-”non”—something more positive, like “Civil Society Organization,” or less meaningful, like “independent.” But this article about the connection between Herman Cain’s campaign and a Tea Party front group funded by the Koch Brothers has her rethinking her position. Under the headline “Cain to Review Links to a Nonprofit” we learn that
An outside lawyer will review allegations that Herman Cain’s presidential campaign accepted tens of thousands of dollars in goods and services from a tax-exempt organization founded by his chief of staff . . .
The front group, “Americans for Prosperity,” is a Wisconsin nonprofit granted at least preliminary 501c3 recognition by the IRS. And if it were actually nothing more than a group of citizens banded together to advocate for policies they believe will lead to prosperity, there would be nothing wrong with that. But if instead it’s just a mouthpiece for the Koch brothers—an Astroturf, rather than a grassroots, organization—then there is something wrong.
The IRS requires 501c3s to raise a third of their money from the public precisely to prevent the creation of captive organizations of this kind. Use of a tax-exempt entity to promote the interests of a single individual or family is a violation of Federal tax law. Moreover, if the nonprofit paid some of the Cain campaign’s expenses, that’s a violation of Federal election law—perhaps one of the few activities left that is.
The Cain campaign may collapse under the weight of far more interesting allegations (sex beats money every time); but if in fact this nonprofit was nothing more than a campaign slush fund, its existence represents a taint on the “nonprofit” label. What a shame that “handmaiden to profit and to policies assuring that the profitable get more so and the rest of us get squat” is so unwieldy.
Maybe a new name for the sector wouldn’t come amiss; but let’s be realistic. The Iron Law of Euphemisms means that whatever name is adopted instead will soon become an epithet itself. This explains the “progress” in designating African-Americans, from “n****r” to “colored” to “Negro” to “black” to “Black” to “people of color”: as long as people using the term hate the people they’re describing, the term will be infected with their hatred and soon need to be abandoned.
And as long as the wealthiest people using the term “nonprofit” are determined to distort the form to support the worst excesses of the profit-driven world, it hardly matters what the rest of us call it.