On May 26, 2010 the first Congressional oversight hearing since 9/11 looked at the impact of anti-terrorist financing enforcement policies on the U.S. charitable sector. A Department of Treasury (Treasury) official acknowledged that the laws aimed at stopping terrorist financing have hurt charitable programs. Witnesses from the U.S. nonprofit sector explained the negative impacts on legitimate charities and the chilling effect of Treasury’s authority to shut down organizations without independent oversight or due process. The hearing, Anti-Money Laundering: Blocking Terrorist Financing and Its Impact on Lawful Charities, was held by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
In a rare bipartisan moment, the House of Representatives approved HR 1677, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2017 on May 16, 2017. Passed in a voice vote, the bill would authorize the President to expand sanctions that apply to the Syrian government to the Central Bank of Syria and to foreign persons that 1) provide material support to the government or Central Bank, 2) transfer arms or weapons to the government and 3) are responsible for human rights abuses against Syrians, including targeting civilian infrastructure for attack or hindering access for humanitarian assistance. It provides a limited waiver process for groups doing humanitarian or stabilization or democracy promotion, stating that U.S. policy shall “fully utilize the waiver authority…to ensure that adequate humanitarian relief or support for stabilization and democracy promotion is provided to the Syrian people.” However, exceptions described below may limit the benefits of the waiver provision. The bill also requires the President to develop a strategy “to ensure humanitarian organizations can access financial services to ensure the safe and timely delivery assistance to communities in need in Syria.” As the bill is considered by the Senate, nonprofit organizations should ask for a closer analysis to ensure that any law that emerges does not inadvertently narrow space for humanitarian operations from what is currently authorized.
The legal authority for the Department of Treasury to designate a person or organization as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) or freeze assets "pending investigation" is based on laws providing for economic sanctions against foreign nations, going back to the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1917 and ending with the Patriot Act.