Letter to President Outlines Reforms Needed to Protect U.S. Charities and Donors

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August 16, 2010

On August 11, 2010, more than 40 Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian charities delivered a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to reform federal charitable giving laws and regulations that restrict the humanitarian work of legitimate U.S. charities.  The letter identifies several barriers that harm humanitarian groups, their donors and the people they serve. It also outlines “concrete action” the President can direct the Departments of Justice, State, and Treasury to do to “protect innocent donors and charities.”  

Barriers to charity stated in the letter include:

  • expansive FBI investigations into legitimate U.S. charitable activities
  • the freezing of charitable assets without criminal charges or due process
  • massive data collection by the FBI on American-Muslims, mosques, and their charitable giving practices
  • a decentralized list-checking system that is neither easy to read or comprehensive

In a press release about the letter, Muslim Advocates (MA) said U.S. charitable groups responding to the urgent needs of victims of natural disasters in places like Pakistan “offset any charitable influence by violent extremists.” “When disaster strikes and Americans give prominently, then public opinion in [the Middle East] becomes more favorable towards Americans” and not for violent extremist groups, MA said.
To address these barriers, the letter urges the President to:

  • Withdraw Treasury’s Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines: Voluntary Best Practices for U.S.-Based Charities. This document has been widely criticized by the U.S. charitable sector for being ineffective in curbing unintentional assistance to terrorist groups, and instead has hampered the delivery of critical humanitarian aid. 
  • Pass an Executive Order that would require Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to implement basic due process procedures for individuals and organizations labeled as a terrorist entity.
  • Release “blocked” charitable assets held indefinitely by Treasury to be used for their charitable purpose.
  • Have the Secretary of State waive the material-support prohibition for technical advice and assistance, training and personnel where intended for humanitarian purposes, so that charities can deliver essential aid such as water and shelter.
  • Have the FBI amend the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) to ensure that racial, ethnic and faith communities are not targets for intelligence-gathering and surveillance, including collecting data on charities, donors and charitable giving practices, without suspicion that a crime is being committed. 
  • Have Treasury and State “create a single, user-friendly, searchable database” that combines all of their terrorist watchlists.

The letter also calls on Treasury to further engage with the U.S. charitable sector. It says, “Despite intensive dialogue and the submission of multiple policy proposals by religious, humanitarian and other nonprofit groups, the administration has not yet substantively addressed these problems or changed any policy. In June, for example, the U.S. Department of Treasury released U.S. Department of the Treasury: Protecting Charitable Giving Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) a messaging document intended to clarify policy regarding restricted charities and related prosecutions. Instead, these FAQs are a continuation of the mixed messages the charitable sector has received.” Click here to see a printable version of the Charity and Security Network’s analysis of Treasury’s FAQ.