News and analysis
September 04, 2012

Barack Obama and the Nonprofit World

President Obama

Here's a look at President Obama's record on key issues that matter to charities and foundations.

Nonprofit activities

While living in Chicago, directed the Developing Communities Project, a nonprofit organization that works with churches to aid low-income neighborhoods. Headed Illinois Project Vote, which helped register black and low-income voters in Cook county. Served as a board member of the Joyce Foundation and of the Woods Fund of Chicago and board chair for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a project to improve public schools.

Charitable giving. Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, contributed $172,130 to charity in 2011 and $245,075 in 2010, 22 percent and 14 percent of their adjusted gross income, respectively.

Record as president

Nonprofit issues. Championed and signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which called for an expansion of AmeriCorps, the national-service program, from 75,000 to 250,000 members by 2017. It also created the Social Innovation Fund, a new grants program to help nonprofits expand effective programs, and funds to help charities recruit and manage volunteers and to provide management training to small nonprofits. Deficit-cutting pressures in Congress have curtailed much of the spending that was envisaged in the legislation.

Created the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, a unit that promotes volunteerism, national service, and innovative approaches to social problems. That office oversaw the White House Council for Community Solutions, an advisory panel of nonprofit leaders and others that issued a final report in June about ways nonprofits and others can collaborate to help young people get educated and find jobs.

Health Care. Drafted a health-care overhaul law that many nonprofits and foundations support and are helping to put into place.

Lobbying. Issued rules limiting the ability of registered lobbyists, including those for nonprofits, to get administration jobs—a stance protested by some advocacy groups.

Poverty. Proposed and won legislation to create the Promise Neighborhoods program, which provides money to nonprofits that work with schools, foundations, businesses, and others to offer an array of services to young people and families in troubled neighborhoods. With a budget of $60-million (smaller than the $150-million that he proposed), the program, modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone project, in New York, is now paying for 20 projects across the country.

Stimulus. Oversaw the effort to enact a $787-billion economic-stimulus law that provided billions of dollars to nonprofits in areas including AmeriCorps, the arts, community health centers, Head Start, housing, Medicaid, and social services.

Taxes. Proposed several times limiting the value of the charitable deduction for households earning more than $250,000 ($200,000 for individuals) as a way to help cut the budget deficit or pay for jobs programs, triggering strong opposition from many charity leaders.

Positions on taxes and spending

Taxes. Would raise taxes on wealthy people as a way to help cut the budget deficit. Would end the Bush-era tax cuts for households with incomes above $250,000 ($200,000 for individuals)

Charitable-giving incentives. Would limit the value of itemized deductions, including those for charitable giving, for wealthy people. Would require people making more than $1-million to pay at least 30 percent in taxes but without “disadvantaging individuals who make large charitable contributions.” Would maintain the estate tax  and increase both the tax rate and the amount that is taxed from current levels.

Spending. Favors trimming federal spending to cut the budget deficit but says it must be balanced by tax increases for the wealthy—an idea he has been unable to sell to Congressional Republicans. Signed a law in 2011 that called for $917-billion in spending cuts over 10 years and set up a Congressional “super committee” to propose $1.2-trillion in additional deficit-cutting measures. Because that committee failed to come up with the required savings, a package of across-the-board spending cuts—half from defense programs and half from other spending—is scheduled to take effect in January 2013.

Federal aid to abortion providers. Opposes efforts by anti-abortion advocates to end federal spending on Planned Parenthood, even for family planning and other non-abortion services. Rescinded the “Mexico City Policy” barring nonprofits that receive U.S. government aid from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries.

Arts and culture. Proposed slight increases in spending on the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities in his 2013 budget, although they would still be getting less than when Mr. Obama entered Office. Proposed flat spending for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

International. Supports foreign aid because it’s “the right thing to do” for a wealthy country and good for national security since “preventing a famine that results in a huge number of refugees” can prevent military conflict. Proposed to increase spending on international aid over all by 2 percent in 2013—including a big increase to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria—but cut in some areas, including Pepfar (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).

National service. Has resisted efforts by House Republicans to kill the Corporation for National and Community Service but proposed increasing the agency’s budget by just 1.3 percent in 2013 and eliminating two of its programs, one to help charities recruit and manage volunteers and the other to offer management training to smaller charities.

Poverty. Proposed flat or increased spending in 2013 on many safety-net programs, including child care, community-health centers, Head Start, housing, Promise Neighborhoods, and social services. However, would cut sharply Community Services Block Grants, which provide money to more than 1,000 community-action groups that manage antipoverty projects. The new health-care law will expand the number of people eligible for Medicaid, the government insurance plan for poor people.

Vice-presidential pick

Joe Biden, former U.S. Senator from Delaware

Charitable giving. Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, contributed $5,540 to charity in 2011, or about 1.5 percent of their adjusted gross income. In 2010, they gave $5,350, or about 1.4 percent of income.

Spouse’s charitable activities

Michelle Obama was founding executive director of the Chicago office of Public Allies, a charity that receives federal money through AmeriCorps and trains people to work in public service. Early in her tenure as first lady, she championed volunteerism and national service and the Social Innovation Fund. More recently, she has turned her attention to Joining Forces, a program she started with Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, that works to help military families, and Let’s Move, a program she started to fight childhood obesity. Nonprofits and foundations are helping to promote both programs.

Send an e-mail to Suzanne Perry.