Every election year, Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit relief charity, asks its donors to match every dollar given to a political campaign with a dollar to support its work at home and abroad.
Four billion dollars will be spent on this General Election cycle alone. To put this in context:
• Four billion dollars exceeds the combined budgets of the United Nations agencies dealing with child survival, refugees, development assistance and family planning as well as that of the US Peace Corps.
• Four billion dollars is a dozen times the budget of the American Government's main disaster response agency, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the State Department.
• Four billion dollars exceeds the amount America spends on nonprofit community health centers which are the safety net for people without health insurance or access to health care.
Four billion dollars.
Political contributions are discretionary but come from the same pool of funds which are the lifeblood charities and other nonprofits depend upon to provide vital services to our communities.
This is not to disparage our admittedly imperfect electoral process, but to remind you that in this time of economic and political uncertainty, the near total preoccupation with election-related issues has imposed a high cost on charities which respond to emergencies at home and abroad. Relief agencies, large and small, depend on an aroused and informed public to provide them with the resources necessary to do their job rescuing people, reconstructing homes, restoring community services and rebuilding lives and livelihoods.
Operation USA, for example, is building schools in Sichuan, China while funding after school programs for girls and boys in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is engaged in development projects in Nicaragua, Sri Lanka and Cambodia long after disaster struck those countries and other disaster relief groups left for home. In Vietnam, thousands of women receive micro-credit loans to develop their own small businesses; while in California, more than 200 community clinics receive over $2 million per year in free medical supplies. This is just one small nonprofit organization's work, one of over 600,000 US registered nonprofits.
In the troubled world of the Bush era, so many problems domestic and foreign have been aggravated that a simple act of charity requires a great deal of insight and energy.
We should all remember our own favorite charities during the media blitz surrounding the elections and the avalanche of money it pulls into its wake.