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 Call for Treasury to Withdraw Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines

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Posted by: laurakujawski on Thursday, February 23, 2006
Topic Special Features

A working group of more than 40 U.S. charitable sector organizations and advisors, coordinated by the Council on Foundations, requested that the Treasury Department withdraw its revised "Anti-terrorist Financing Guidelines: Voluntary Best Practices for U.S.-based...

charities" and endorse in their place the group's own Principles of International Charity, which includes eight principles to guide the anti-terrorism efforts of charities.

The Working Group's position is based on three principal concerns:

  1. The revised Guidelines contain provisions suggesting that charitable organizations are agents of the government. By stating that Treasury worked "hand-in-hand" with the charitable sector to develop the Guidelines, by suggesting that nonprofits engage in additional information-gathering activities, and by calling on nonprofits to report individuals "suspected of activity related to terrorism" to Treasury or the FBI, the revised Guidelines link charitable organizations more closely to the U.S. Government, potentially undermining the trust between U.S. charities and foreign recipients and creating additional concern about extremist groups targeting humanitarian workers.

  2. The revised Guidelines suggest the collection of more information on more individuals and organizations than did the initial Guidelines. Not only would the collection of this information impose financial and administrative burdens on nonprofits and hinder their charitable activities, but the information itself will have little utility in preventing the diversion of charitable funds to terrorist purposes.

  3. The revised Guidelines do much more than offer guidance to charities that might be helpful in achieving compliance with sanctions administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Because government agencies continue to incorporate the Guidelines into their operating procedures, the concern is that the Guidelines will become mandatory for charitable organizations. While the initial Guidelines were published only in an attachment to a press release, publication of the revised Guidelines in the Federal Register may give government agencies even greater cause to defer to the Guidelines, even though they continue to be labeled "Voluntary."

The Working Group's Principles of International Charity document specifies eight fundamental principles, including the observance of all applicable U.S. and foreign legal requirements and the adoption of further practices, as deemed appropriate by individual charities, that may provide additional confidence that resources and services are provided for exclusively charitable purposes.

The principles also emphasize that the boards of directors of charities are responsible for complying with the law and that the organization's commitment to fiscal responsibility–involving appropriate due diligence on prospective partners or grantees, a written signed agreement, ongoing monitoring and correction of any misuse of resources–must be reflected at every level of the organization. The principles also note that charities must be independent to carry out their activities and cannot serve as agents for enforcement of laws or the policies reflected in them.

The Treasury Guidelines Working Group was formed after an April 2004 meeting at which Treasury Secretary John W. Snow indicated a willingness to consider changes to the initial anti-terrorist financing guidelines issued in November 2002. The diverse working group includes non-governmental operational agencies, foundations, corporations, watchdog groups, legal advisors and nonprofit umbrella organizations such as Independent Sector, InterAction, Grantmakers Without Borders, the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on Foundations. The group developed the Principles of International Charity and originally submitted the Principles to the Treasury Department in March 2005. The Principles and the comments submitted to the Treasury Department by the Working Group are available on the Council's United States International Grantmaking Web site.

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