Interview by Sally Schaeffer
You’ve been a strong advocate in Congress for the charitable and philanthropic community. What is it about the work of nonprofit organizations that led you to be such a supporter of the sector? Do you have a personal connection to the work of nonprofits?
Nonprofits are playing a more important role in our society as government is reevaluating the effectiveness of some of its programs amidst budget constraints. These wonderful organizations range from social service providers to colleges to cultural institutions. I could spend hours describing the good work that nonprofits are doing to benefit communities and improve lives.
For example, nonprofits and charities provide scholarships and other assistance to make education accessible to those who may not be able to afford it. Nonprofits also provide a way for individuals to have an impact, particularly through charitable contributions.
In addition to providing vital services, these organizations also provide jobs. Maine’s nonprofit sector currently employs over 14.4 percent of the state’s workforce.
Are there any specific organizations whose work you have found particularly inspiring recently? Please feel free to share examples from around your state.
There are so many wonderful organizations in Maine that do incredibly important work for the people of our communities. It would be impossible to single out just one or two; however, the Alzheimer’s Association, Catholic Charities, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the many groups serving our homeless residents, and the Girls Scouts are just a few of the organizations that come to mind.
What can charities and foundations around the country do to communicate the value and impact of their work and the sector on their own Members of Congress?
It is important that these organizations share their work with Members of Congress. By bringing specific examples of how their organization have made a difference for people in their state, they can have a large impact on the conversation.
Please explain what the Public Good Charitable Rollover Act of 2015 does, and why you think it is so important for the charitable sector? Does this bill create synergies with other legislative efforts you are pursuing?
Charitable giving is vital to the operations of our nation’s nonprofits. Without sufficient donations, many charities would cease to function and their good work would go undone. The IRA charitable rollover provision enacted in 2006 allows IRA holders who are at least age 70 ½ to donate amounts directly from their IRA to a charitable organization, without treating the distribution as taxable income.
Unfortunately, however, the current IRA rollover rule is only temporary. The temporary nature of the provision makes it very difficult for individuals to make use of it and the uncertainty diminishes its effect. For example, since the rule first expired in 2008, the provision has been renewed five times. Most recently, it was reinstated in mid-December of 2014, only to expire again two weeks later, on January 1.
The Public Good Charitable Rollover Act would make this provision permanent.
Permanence will offer the certainty that both donors and nonprofits need to plan for charitable gifts in advance. I have data from three Maine colleges that have been tracking the contributions they have received through IRA rollovers. The data clearly show that in years that the provision was in effect for the whole year, the colleges received significantly more IRA rollover contributions.
Some say that bipartisanship has been in short supply on Capitol Hill in recent times. Please describe your approach to getting issues addressed and legislation passed.
I have long believed that bipartisanship and compromise lead not only to action but also to better results. Recently, I was honored to be ranked the Most Bipartisan Senator by the Lugar Center’s new index that quantifies bipartisan behavior.
Like most Americans, I have never believed that either party has a monopoly on good ideas. I believe in negotiating in good faith and, while compromise is difficult, governing without it in a democracy is impossible.
For example, along with former Senator Joe Lieberman, I was proud to lead the successful bipartisan repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that prohibited gay and lesbian Americans from serving openly in the military. My view was that we ought to be expressing our gratitude to those willing to serve, not drumming them out of our armed forces. While many people at the time thought we were taking on an impossible task, we worked day and night to round up the votes required and history was made when the repeal was signed into law.
Rather than producing a second best result, a bipartisan solution reached by honest debate and consideration of alternate viewpoints very often is not just the one with the best chance to prevail, but also the best answer.
Can you share some of your own priorities as the Senate Finance Committee continues to lay the groundwork for considering comprehensive tax reform?
I have long supported comprehensive tax reform and the need for a simpler, fairer, pro-growth tax code that gives our families and small businesses the certainty they need.