Combined Federal Campaign Aims High

Posted October 20, 2004 at 2:52pm

Despite recent controversy over new terrorist screening requirements for participating organizations, administrators of the Combined Federal Campaign in the District of Columbia aim to improve upon last year’s fundraising totals by 6 percent for the 2004 campaign.

The CFC is a federal program that allows federal employees to donate to a wide range of charities, with the funds withdrawn directly from their paychecks. The giving drive takes place every fall from September until December. Last year the CFC of the National Capitol Area raised $50.7 million for local and national charities. The goal for 2004 is $54 million.

This year the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the CFC, enacted a new rule prohibiting participating charities from knowingly employing or contributing to terrorists.

Controversy broke out in July when CFC Director Mara Patermaster clarified the requirement, telling The New York Times that, in order to comply with the rule, CFC expected the groups to check employee lists against the terrorist watch lists maintained by the Treasury Department.

Critics of the rule claim the watch lists could lead to racial profiling, since many of the names are common Arab or Muslim names. They also say the lists are riddled with errors and constantly changing, making the screening process difficult, tedious and time consuming.

The American Civil Liberties Union immediately dropped out of the campaign, followed by several other national organizations. This month the National Council of Nonprofit Associations released a position statement condemning the new rule.

“The basic thing is there’s a real climate of fear going on right now with this administration and the way they’re conducting the war on terror,” said ACLU spokeswoman Emily Whitfield. The organization’s responsibility is to defend civil liberties, even if it means turning down money, she added.

As a result of withdrawing from the campaign, the ACLU could lose $500,000, the amount raised by the organization last year through CFC.

However, campaign officials in the local area do not expect a major impact from the withdrawal of a few organizations, said Tony DeCristofaro, spokesman for the CFC of the National Capitol Area.

“The purpose of our campaign is to raise the most amount of money we can for charities with the lowest cost,” he said. The recent controversy has not caused the campaign’s goal of $54 million to drop.

The new requirements were enacted in response to a 2001 executive order that “froze the assets within U.S. jurisdiction of persons designated for their ties to terrorism, and prohibited U.S. persons from having financial transactions with such designated persons,” Patermaster wrote in a letter to ACLU Director Anthony Romero following the organization’s decision to withdraw from the program.

The Office of Personnel Management declined to comment on the controversy, citing pending legal action from the ACLU.

The campaign’s brochure touts 3,317 other charitable organizations, and DeCristofaro said he hopes federal workers who may have given to a charity that has withdrawn from the program will find another to support this year.