Donor intent

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Donor intent is a term used to describe either the explicit intentions of a philanthropist on what their bequests should be used to fund or their views and values that should be honoured.

In conservative circles, 'donor intent' is commonly used to refer to foundations that they believe have strayed from the conservative free market fold and funded programs that are 'liberal'. In conservative ranks Martin Morse Wooster is considered the leading author on the topic.

By way of example a Wall Street Journal editorial complained in February 2004 about the restructuring of the Pew Charitable Trusts - founded with a fortune made from oil - for tax reasons. For conservatives, the Pew Trusts support for ratification of the Kyoto treaty to limit greenhouse gases, is an example of a foundation violating 'donor intent'.

"With this tax change, trusts that were set up with money from the Sun Oil Company will now be used to lobby for a Kyoto Treaty whose primary victims will be America's energy companies," Neal B. Freeman from the Foundation Management Institute told the WSJ. [1]

For conservatives, challenging foundations that fund 'liberal' projects is one strand in their long-term campaign to 'defund the left'. "Congress writes the laws that make this possible, but the last time Congress seriously debated the issue of foundations and donor intent and the tax breaks that guarantee perpetuity was the famous Patman hearings of the 1960s. Looks to us as though someone on the Senate Finance or House Government Reform Committees hasn't been minding the store," the WSJ complained.

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