The Democratic Party platform, ratified Tuesday night in Charlotte, N.C., champions policies favorable to nonprofits by promoting national service, the Social Innovation Fund, the arts, and partnerships with religious groups.
But the platform reiterates the party’s dedication to closing tax loopholes and deductions for wealthy taxpayers, and that could lead to proposals many nonprofits dislike.
While Democrats made no specific mention of the charitable deduction, President Obama has made limits on write-offs for charitable gifts part of his efforts to revise how the wealthy are taxed. Those efforts have failed in part because of charity opposition.
The Democratic platform is far different from the one approved last week by the Republican Party. The GOP platform made no specific mention of supporting federal aid to volunteer and cultural programs. But it did promise to protect the charitable deduction.
Democrats made it clear they want to run on their record of expanding national service, noting that they led the fight to pass the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which called for an increase in the size of AmeriCorps.
In addition, the Democratic platform credits party for creating the Social Innovation Fund, which “is leveraging millions in private-sector dollars to invest in programs with a proven track record of success.
The fund, created in 2009, provides grants to help nonprofits expand effective social programs. It has a budget of $45-million this year but also attracts money from nonprofits and foundations.
In another section of the platform, the Democrats committed further to such partnerships between the federal government and nonprofits.
“We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other nonprofit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests,” the platform states.
Arts groups were rejoicing in the success they achieved with the Democrats.
Americans for the Arts approached both parties during the platform-writing process to request statements of support for the arts and arts education, said Narric Rome, senior director of federal affairs at Americans for the Arts.
The group on Tuesday hosted a panel discussion in Charlotte featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a discussion about the importance of the arts. The group held a similar event in Tampa last week that featured former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
But the Republicans said nothing about the arts while the Democratic platform promises to “continue to support public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and for programs providing art and music education in primary and secondary schools.”
“We thought it was unfortunate that the Republican platform did not mention arts and arts education,” Mr. Rome said. “We have been and will be pursuing Gov. [Mitt] Romney” for a statement of support before the election.
Among the closest-watched proposals by nonprofits are those that affect the charitable deduction.
President Obama’s repeated proposals to limit the value of deductions that can be claimed by wealthy people “gave the independent sector heart attacks,” said Donald Haider, director of the Center for Nonprofit Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a Republican delegate to the GOP convention last week.
While many people scrutinize the platforms, it’s wrong to give them too much credence, he said, because they are not indicative of exactly what candidates will do once in office.
For example, he said, Mr. Obama may have championed the Corporation for National and Community Service programs when he was running the first time and may do so again now. But, just as he was in his first term, he could be forced to trim back his ambitions in the wake of concerns about federal spending.
In his view, Mr. Haider said nonprofit leaders deciding which candidates to back should ask themselves:
• Whose policies do you believe will spur economic growth, which, in turn, would spur more charitable giving?
• Who is more likely to maintain the current tax law?
David L. Thompson, vice president for public policy for the National Council of Nonprofits, also believes that the platforms are solely meant for political—not governing—purposes.
“Neither platform presents a clear recognition of nonprofits in championing solutions and improving communities,” Mr. Thompson said.
His group’s focus has been on getting all the candidates to recognize the importance of nonprofits and to see them as economic growth engines in the same way both parties are talking about small businesses.
If both parties say nonprofits are vital to their communities “then we win the election,” Mr. Thompson said.