Watch Your Back

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Date: 
September 7, 2016
Author: 
Andrea Hall

Because the U.S. government hasn't designated any charities under Executive Order 13224 since 2009, if you're a U.S.-based charity, you likely thought the danger had passed. Well, think again. Not everyone thinks that's a good thing it seems.

In May, the Counterterror and Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing titled "Following the Money" to examine how terrorist groups overseas get their funds. One of the speakers was Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Apparently, he's not too happy about the above stats and would like the U.S. government to get back to work shutting down charities. 

In his remarks, he creates a world in which anyone who was ever employed by a designated charity is now and forever tainted by that employment. Guilt by association, in other words. He additionally points to certain individuals who were listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation case. What he neglected to mention was that in May 2007, the prosecution in that case listed 246 individuals as "Un-indicted Co-conspirators and/or Joint Venturers." In a break with U.S. Department of Justice policies, the list was not sealed and the names, which included most major U.S. Muslim organizations, were made public. Both the trial court in Dallas and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the release of this list violated due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. The basis for those rulings was that individuals and organizations on the list were not charged with any wrongdoing and had no opportunity to defend themselves. Notably, the District Court stated that the list was “unaccompanied by any facts providing a context for evaluating the basis for the United States Attorney’s opinion."

Schanzer concludes his remarks to the House subcommittee by stating that his organization is "deeply concerned that individuals connected to entities that were previously implicated in terrorism finance can so easily regroup with such scant oversight. That is why, in my April 19 testimony, I stated that the IRS needs to pay more attention to the prior histories of Section 501 entities and their officers or directors." What he's saying is that anyone who has ever worked for a listed organization is therefore a threat and the government should make sure the public at large knows that so they can decide not to donate to those organizations, which, by the way, have never been alleged to have taken part in any criminal wrongdoing whatsoever. He concludes by asking why no charities have been designated since 2009 and asks why more resources aren't devoted to this now. Fear mongering at its finest. 

Luckily for U.S. nonprofits, not all the news on this front is bad. Just three weeks later, subcommittees of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services held a hearing, "Stopping the Money Flow." At this June 9 hearing, one of the speakers was Daniel Glaser, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at U.S. Treasury. He was asked by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) why Treasury hasn't designated any domestic charities under E.O. 13224 since 2009, and asserted that "terrorists still exploit the U.S. charitable sector."

Glaser's response is reassuring. He explained that there are fewer designations of U.S.-based charitable organizations and affiliated individuals "for a variety of reasons," including the fact that Treasury has worked with the charitable sector over many years and has "reduced the opportunity for [charities] to be abused to facilitate financial support for terrorist groups" and that law enforcement employs a variety of tools to deter and detect illicit activity within the U.S. Glaser also stated that the traditional terrorist group fundraising model of relying on charitable organizations is "not as prevalent as it used to be" in the U.S. Instead, groups now seek to raise funds "under the auspices of charitable giving, but outside of any charitable organization recognized by the U.S. Government." In other words, sham charities. 

So, watch your back. People are antsy that the government isn't shutting you down, but luckily it appears that you have an ally in this fight.