[EDITORIALS]Expand voluntary giving

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[EDITORIALS]Expand voluntary giving

One of the more shameful aspects of our society is the lack of value we see in charitable contributions. What little giving we do is limited to religious groups and to welfare groups. Public interest groups get little or no financial support from the public.

The government's move to expand income tax deductions to include contributions made to such civic groups is a step forward, albeit a belated one. Financial woes have put a crimp in the activities of civic groups, which once seemed to be flourishing.

But the Finance Ministry's decision to single out just two organizations, the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, may be misunderstood. The ministry cited the symbolic nature of the two groups as leading organizations, but that explanation will fail to quell complaints from thousands of other groups that will demand to know the real reasons for the selections. At least there has been a process of nominating and assessing the qualifications of nonprofit welfare groups and cultural foundations that can now receive tax-deductible contributions. The new additions were just arbitrarily selected by the Finance Ministry.

If we are to develop a culture of donations, potential recipients must also step up their efforts to make their operations transparent. We saw from last year's campaign by civic groups to oppose the election of certain politicians and in their calls for media reform that their activities cannot be always free of criticism by opposing interests. Voluntary, complete disclosure of their finances to contributors is just a start. Organizations must continually assess their spending to ensure money is being used well.

The financial condition of civic groups is discouraging. Only the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy can meet 70 percent or more of its operating expenses through member contributions. Tax breaks should be expanded to other groups, and to ensure that contributions are independent of government or business interests, oversight agencies should look at the transparency of funds collection and disbursement.
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