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Charities chafe under U.S. terrorism watch

The Council on Foundations, representing more than 2,000 foundations and charities, charges that government guidelines put in place after 9/11  to stop funding of terrorists are threatening legitimate philanthropic efforts.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Government guidelines put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks to stop the funding of terrorists are threatening legitimate philanthropic and humanitarian efforts around the world, a group of foundations charges.

The Washington-based Council on Foundations, which represents more than 2,000 foundations, charities and corporate grant makers, plans to push the U.S. Treasury Department to reconsider its voluntary Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines.

The guidelines took effect in 2002, after President Bush issued an executive order and signed provisions of the Patriot Act that prohibit contributions of funds, goods and services to terrorists or their associates.

Among other things, the guidelines recommend that charities require recipients to detail what steps they take to ensure the money does not reach terrorists.

“These unrealistic, impractical, costly and potentially dangerous guidelines, while technically voluntary, are nevertheless having a chilling effect on non-governmental international activities,” wrote Rob Buchanan, director of the council’s international programs.

He said the guidelines may discourage organizations from spending money to relieve human suffering “at a time when the need for U.S. philanthropic and humanitarian efforts to address conditions that can breed terrorism around the world have never been more urgent.”

U.S. official defends policy
Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said the department is working with charitable organizations to revise the guidelines, but she defended their purpose.

“No one wants their money donated to help orphans, widows or to feed children to end up paying for guns, grenades and Osama bin Laden,” she said. “The guidelines are out there to educate people in the United States about how to be responsible for giving. We all want to make sure charitable giving continues and goes to legitimate purposes.”

Foundation policies changing
Some charitable organizations have amended their grant policies in response to the guidelines.

For example, the Ford Foundation now bars recipients of its funds from engaging in any activity that “promotes violence, terrorism, bigotry, or the destruction of any state.” The Rockefeller Foundation says recipients of its funds may not “directly or indirectly engage in, promote, or support other organizations or individuals who engage in or promote terrorist activity.”

The American Civil Liberties Union recently turned down $1.15 million from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, saying the organizations’ new grant language was ambiguous and could impede free speech.

“The ACLU cannot effectively defend the rights of all Americans if we do not stand up for those same rights ourselves,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said.