In early October, the Ammon City Council implemented a charitable contribution policy, to give up to $20,000 of taxpayer monies a year to private, nonprofit organizations.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Harrison Smith informed city officials that the policy violated the Idaho Constitution’s Gift Clause. In response, the city of Ammon suspended the policy.
The Gift Clause is a crucial part of the Idaho Constitution because it prohibits the use of public funds to subsidize private organizations. The clause ensures that contributions to private organizations, such as nonprofits, are optional and completely at the will of the individual.
However, in the city of Boise, some charitable contributions are forced, via the use of taxpayer dollars to fund grants.
The city’s Department of Arts and History has a grants program that disburses between $1,000 and $5,000 a year to organizations and, occasionally, individuals. The funds can be used towards general operating expenses, projects, or public community cultural events. In fiscal year 2018, use of these grants ranged from education outreach and dance scholarship programs to operating support for concerts and film festivals.
For the 2018 fiscal year as a whole, the Department of Arts and History disbursed $150,000 in grants. The amount disbursed since the creation of the grants program is much higher, with the department’s website noting: “Since 1997, the city has awarded over 400 grants with a total disbursement of $1,275,000.”
In August and September 2018 alone, the city distributed $19,000 in grants. The benefiting organizations for these two months were:
Idaho Horror Film Festival, $5,000
Idaho Office for Refugees, $1,200
Ballet Idaho, $1,000
Big Tree Arts, $1,000
Boise Community Radio Project, $1,000
Boise Gay Men's Chorus, $1,000
Boise Music Week, $1,000
Boise Philharmonic Association, $1,000
Idaho Shakespeare Festival, $1,000
Migration Theory, $1,000
Opera Idaho, $1,000
Story Story Night, $1,000
Wingtip Press, $1,000
Basque Museum Cultural Center, $800
Idaho Japanese Association, $400
Idaho Voices of Diversity, $400
Boise Contra Dance Society, $200
In the city’s expenditure report, most of these grants were listed as the second disbursement, meaning that many of these organizations also received a grant payment earlier this year.
This division of disbursements is a small way for the city to ensure an element of accountability for how the funds are used. Those who are granted these funds receive 80 percent of the amount upfront and are given the other 20 percent after submitting afinal report, showing how the money was used.
There is nothing disrespectful about the charitable work of nonprofits; they are turning their mission statements into action, just like other organizations and corporations. What is disrespectful, and likely unconstitutional according to the Gift Clause, is the contribution of funds to these nonprofits by the city government, using taxpayer dollars.
A city is not an individual, it is a collection of the residents within its boundaries. So, when public officials give out money, they are not donating their own money, they are donating the money of all the people living in the city.
Government charitable giving completely displaces the free will behind charitable contributions and shifts decision-making from the individual to the government. Whether or not these are organizations you would donate to on your own, neither you nor anyone should be forced to support a nonprofit through taxation. Based on the Idaho Constitution’s Gift Clause, you should never even be placed in this position.
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