Representing the Army on Capitol Hill
by Todd Hawks, Major –
Does The Salvation Army lobby or not? That question comes up frequently as national headquarters (NHQ) is constantly being asked to advocate and support a variety of moral, ethical and human rights issues debated in Congress.
For many people, the idea of being a “lobbyist” is not very appealing. It conjures up a smoke-filled back room image where corruption takes place with public officials.
Public Policy Advocacy
In reality or Public Policy advocacy, involves speaking out for an issue or a cause. Advocacy can be accomplished through an in-person meeting, written communication to elected officials or letters to an editor. The most effective advocacy includes sharing one’s experience. The purpose of advocacy is to educate and shape public opinion, including policy maker’s opinions about an issue or a cause.
Lobbying is specifically focused advocacy that attempts to influence a particular piece of legislation. Lobbying may include supporting, opposing or amending proposed legislation or existing law.
There is nothing wrong with lobbying within the confines of the law. It represents the political freedom extended to all of us and offers the rights of all Americans to speak out and have an influential voice on the political direction and issues of our country. It’s not done in secrecy; it is done in the most open and public forum available on the face of the earth. We are—and we remain—actively engaged in the politically oriented advocacy and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Our current advocacy and lobbying efforts are grounded in three principles:
1. Biblical Mission Our Biblical mission obligates us as empowered disciples to transmit the word and “meet human needs” as unto Christ himself. Therefore we serve in the context of scripture.
• Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice, Proverbs 31:9.
• I assure you whatsoever you did for the humblest of my brothers, you did for me…I assure you that whatever you did not do to the humblest of my brothers, you failed to do for me, Matthew 25:40, 45.
Other scripture references include Psalms 82:3, Luke 4:18-19, John 4:4, Acts 2:1-45 and Ephesians 4:11-13.
As an integral part of the Christian Church universal, The Salvation Army is committed in love to this call.
2. Army Heritage In the context of our organizational heritage, we continue to follow the principles of William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. Advocacy is an intrinsic component of who we are as an organization. Led by The Salvation Army in 1890, William Booth’s “Cab Horse Charter” campaign prevailed in changing English law.
Twenty years later, as Booth was aging, his great vision for human freedom in Christ for the world was gaining considerable acceptance. He committed himself, and those who followed, to a system advocacy by saying:
“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight I’ll fight to the very end!”
3. Constitutional Right The myth that nonprofits cannot lobby and to do so jeopardizes our tax-exempt status needs dispelling. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code (501c3) states that nonprofit organizations may engage in lobbying and other advocacy activities. We may spend as much as five percent of our annual gross revenue to do so. We are not allowed to endorse or campaign for specific individuals running for office. With that distinction clear, most, if not all of the national faith based organizations have fully engaged public affairs offices with legally trained lobbyists on staff.
So does The Salvation Army lobby or not? Again the answer is yes and we do so because it is a part of our Biblical mission, our Army heritage and our Constitutional right.
The Army’s Role in Advocacy
Prior to my appointment as the national public affairs secretary, I didn’t understand the depth of our advocacy role.
I had participated in “A Day on the Hill,” an event in which divisional commanders and other officers came to Washington, D.C., to visit the congressional leaders and staff. The purpose of such gatherings was to inform national leaders of the Army’s work and ministry for the constituents in their communities. I questioned why we were there and wondered if it was a waste of time to meet with young interns and staff.
Only after arriving to my appointment at NHQ did I realize the depth of our advocacy role. I received letters, e-mails, and phone calls from people internally and externally wanting us to sign-on to a certain issue in support of their cause. It was the initial signal of the impressive power of the Army and our influence. However, some of the requests we have to decline because we want to preserve and protect our name.
At NHQ we have a Public Policy Council, chaired by the national commander, and a Government Relations Task force (GRT), chaired by myself. These two groups bring together all disciplines represented at NHQ and constantly examine current and emerging issues. Issues come first before the GRT and are filtered as to whether they are missionally, positionally and doctrinally sound. The Public Policy Council reviews recommendations of the task force and makes a final decision on whether we want to take a position, give our support, or lend our name or presence on certain issues.
In the first 18 months of my appointment to NHQ, we lobbied for Welfare Reform, LIHEAP funding, Gulf Coast Recovery Initiative, and Cable Choice. We have lobbied for more funds to combat homelessness issues, hunger and poverty. We have lobbied in support of charitable giving incentives and reform.
We have taken stands against religious persecution in Sudan, human trafficking throughout the world, child pornography in public libraries, elder abuse in nursing homes, and prison rape in federal prisons.
One of the keys to our lobbying efforts is that we must remain apolitical. It can be like walking a tightrope in a windstorm, because partisanship tries to pull you to one side or the other. So we walk a nonpartisan line for the sake of the hurting and marginalized. We are neither a Republican nor a Democrat Salvation Army. When we have opportunities to address Congress, government, or national coalitions, it is not about the officer or staff person, it’s about the organization.
Public Policy Priorities/Legislative Agenda
Upon my appointment, it didn’t take long to realize that we were an inch deep and a mile wide. There were too few people working on too many issues.
Commissioner Israel Gaither challenged the Government Relations Task force with putting together a list of priorities that would serve as the platform for our work on Capitol Hill. We developed a Public Policy list of priorities based on our historical involvement and current legislative activity. The list includes a wide range of issues such as charitable giving/nonprofit reform, employment, human rights, immigration, national response plan, poverty and economic security, religious freedom and human trafficking.
Following are two examples of priority statements:
1. Charitable giving incentives/nonprofit reforms The Salvation Army relies on donations to provide services or supplement resources received from government funds and cost for services provided. The Salvation Army will support policies that encourage and reward donations to nonprofit organizations. The Salvation Army also supports reforms of nonprofit organizations that encourage nonprofit organizations to be mission driven and transparent in their actions.
The Pension Protection Act of 2006 was signed into law and included a package of charitable giving incentives and safeguard measures. The passage of the PPA 2006 prompted diverse responses from the charitable community. There were three specific provisions within the Act that we watched closely, including a giving incentive called an IRA Rollover and two reforms regarding cash donations and the donation of clothing and household goods. Prior to the passage of this legislation, The Salvation Army worked with other nonprofit organizations specifically lobbying against reforms that would require donors and charities to submit to a more stringent procedure for tax-deductible donations of clothing and household items.
Following the passage of the PPA 2006, the IRS and other nonprofit organizationsrepresenting the largest charities involved in the thrift store businessmet. We wanted to be of assistance and work with the Treasury on implementing the new changes to the tax code on the deduction of clothing and household goods.
2. National Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness The Salvation Army will continue to be active in multi-sector discussions regarding the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and the National Response Plan (NRP). The Salvation Army supports the national implementation of the NIMS. The Department of Homeland Security has invited Salvation Army representation on its “emergency support function work group” to assist in writing the revised text for the non-governmental (NGO) sector within the NRP. The Salvation Army supports the creation of an office within the Department of Homeland Security that would assist and coordinate both for-profit and nonprofit agencies with disaster preparedness.
Immediately following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, The Salvation Army was asked to participate in Congressional hearings for both the House and Senate during the “lessons learned” process. We have continued to participate in the Government Accounting Offices (GAO) interviews and various work groups in the draft process of the NRP. In addition to government, we are participating in forums and symposiums on this topic with other NGO partners.
Shift in Power
A couple of days following the mid-term elections, Major George Hood happened to be in conversation with a friend who works directly for the president inside the White House. Hood said to him, “The mood must be pretty bleak over there.” The response was instantaneous, “Oh no, the weather changes everyday; Congress and the White House change regularly and systematically by design. It’s all okay. What you and I cling to is the knowledge that God never changes and he is always in control.”
What a profound statement. Politics is not the most important activity for Christians or The Salvation Army, but it is one crucial part of what it means to confess Christ as Lord of all of life.
Major Todd Hawks was serving as national public affairs secretary when he presented a workshop at the National Advisory Organizations Conference in Dallas, Texas, in 2007. This article is based on that workshop.