Throughout the nearly 20 years of writing this column I have chronicled the drip-by-drip deterioration of the respect and legislative deference traditionally given to charities and other non-profit organizations. It was not my purpose, but who could ignore the many high-profile shenanigans over the years at United Way of America, American University, the Smithsonian, the Red Cross and others, involving tacky, greedy, sleazy and illegal conduct? I couldn't, and neither could Congress.
For the first time in my memory, we now have a major congressional figure publicly questioning the very premise of granting tax exemptions to some charities. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, an influential overseer of the tax-exempt sector, has asked why fee-for-service charities such as hospitals and universities deserve a government subsidy when there is "no known discernible difference" between them and for-profit businesses providing the same services. It is a very good question, but it would never even have been asked years ago. And it gets worse.