Gingrich gives charities a challenge
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Charitable foundations must be flexible and innovative in preparing the United States for an unprecedented era of change, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a gathering of the country's philanthropic leaders in Pittsburgh yesterday.
"We may be facing the largest scale of change since Abraham Lincoln in 1861," said Mr. Gingrich, whose half-hour speech marked the end of the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Foundations' three-day conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The conference attracted about 1,600 of the country's top philanthropists, who heard Mr. Gingrich label energy, scientific development, national security, poverty, education and the rise of India and China as evolving issues that will shape America's future.
"If you combine the rate of scientific change with the economic challenge of China and India, we have a very simple near-term future," he said. "Either America changes itself very substantially in its capabilities, or we cease to be the leading country in the world. There is no third alternative."
With some in Congress -- including Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who addressed the conference Monday -- calling for greater government oversight of charitable foundations following scandals at organizations such as the United Way and the American Red Cross, Mr. Gingrich encouraged foundations to maintain their independence.
Increased government oversight would only constrain foundations with the red tape that plagues the federal government, a situation highlighted by the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Gingrich said.
"The great lesson of Katrina is that government failed," he said. "What we do not need to do is take all of the stupid things we've done to government and transfer them to the philanthropic world, to make sure that you are as audited, as petty ... and as process-complete but achievement-incomplete as government has become."
Still, charitable foundations and the government must work together, not against each other, Mr. Gingrich said.
"Charities, foundations and philanthropy have an enormous role to play in America, but they are not a substitute for government," he said. "Government has an obligation to create a framework within which freedom can flourish, and within that framework charities and philanthropy have a great deal that they can bring to bear."
First Published May 10, 2006 12:00 am