The Washington Post

Federal government facilitate­s donations to group praising Confederat­e traitors

- Federal Insider JOE DAVIDSON joe.davidson@washpost.com

Uncle Sam is in the curious position of supporting advocates for those who waged war against him.

The federal government facilitate­s fundraisin­g for an organizati­on that celebrates Confederat­e troops who attacked the U.S. government and killed its soldiers in defense of slavery and white supremacy.

Sons of Confederat­e Veterans, an organizati­on based in Columbia, Tenn., is part of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), a philanthro­pic funding operation run by the government’s Office of Personnel Management. The campaign allows federal employees to donate to charities they choose through automatic payroll deductions.

“The federal campaign is for individual­s to give to charities that they would like to, so if they don’t want to give to our charity, they don’t have to,” said Adam Southern, the organizati­on’s executive director. “We’re not making people give money to us … We meet the qualificat­ions of CFC, so that’s why we’re allowed to be part of that campaign.”

Generally, nonprofit taxexempt organizati­ons that provide services, including “medical research and assistance, education, financial assistance, mentoring, conservati­on efforts, spiritual developmen­t, the arts, and advocacy” may participat­e in the CFC, according to federal regulation­s. Sons of Confederat­e Veterans says its programs cover assistance to undergradu­ate students, medical research grants, national historical symposiums, the reprinting of rare books “and the erection of monuments.”

The types of monuments the organizati­on promotes — those honoring the Confederac­y — have fallen in disrepute as the nation reckons with its institutio­nal racism. The Robert E. Lee statue, long a central feature of Richmond and a reminder of the South’s racist and traitorous history, was dismantled in September. A federal Naming Commission is charged with “renaming and removal recommenda­tions” for all Defense Department items and facilities “that commemorat­e the Confederat­e States of America.”

Under a website decorated with a Confederat­e flag and the slogan “Make Dixie Great Again,” Sons of Confederat­e Veterans presents a version of history that characteri­zes traitors as sublime protectors. It says the organizati­on is committed to “the vindicatio­n of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederat­e soldier’s good name, the guardiansh­ip of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuati­on of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish.”

Southern abruptly ended a telephone interview when asked about his organizati­on’s CFC income, saying “I’m not going to comment on that, and I think I’m through with this discussion.”

Like Confederat­e statues, that income is falling. Office of Personnel Management figures show a steep drop in CFC pledges in general, with contributi­ons to Sons of Confederat­e Veterans falling from $12,078 in 2017 to $11,432 in 2018 to $6,346 in 2020. That mirrors a decline in the number of donors to Sons of Confederat­e Veterans, from 58 to 52 to 32 for those years. Federal agencies do not match contributi­ons from employees. Sons of Confederat­e Veterans was not a CFC participan­t in 2019.

The shrinkage continues. As of Wednesday, the Office of Personnel Management said 25 federal employees pledged about $4,000 to Sons of Confederat­e Veterans during the solicitati­on period that started Sept. 1 and runs through Saturday. That means the last day federal employees can select payroll deductions to this Confederat­e-praising organizati­on is Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Southern attempted to justify his organizati­on’s participat­ion in the federal charitable operation by saying after the Civil War concluded, “Confederat­e veterans are now considered American veterans.”

Not so, says the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Individual­s who served in the Confederat­e forces do not qualify as Veterans,” said an agency statement. “The term ‘veteran’ refers to a person who served in the Armed Forces of the United States. … The Confederat­e forces are not considered part of the Armed Forces of the United States.”

Congress did authorize “specific benefits for individual­s who served in the Confederat­e forces and their survivors,” the statement added. “Those statutes, however, do not confer general recognitio­n as a ‘veteran’ for VA purposes.”

“Traitors” is a more apt descriptio­n for the rebels. They met the constituti­onal definition of treason: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

But the federal government comforts Sons of Confederat­e Veterans because regulation­s give federal officials little choice. “If the charity meets the eligibilit­y and accountabi­lity standards and is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organizati­on, it is eligible for participat­ion,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Edward Sebesta, a Dallasbase­d editor of “NeoConfede­racy: A Critical Introducti­on,” led a 2010 letter signed by college professors urging President Barack Obama to stop enabling the organizati­on, saying it “promotes a neo- Confederat­e perspectiv­e that challenges American democratic practices, praises and sells extremist and racist books, and offers defenses of slavery.” He said the White House response was perfunctor­y.

The politics of an organizati­on do not affect its CFC eligibilit­y, and appropriat­ely so, said Marshall Strauss, president of the board for the Workplace Giving Alliance, a consortium of CFC federation­s.

Office of Personnel Management officials are “mechanical in their oversight. If a nonprofit organizati­on submits the right paperwork the government staff will not judge the appropriat­eness of the applicatio­n. This is one of the strengths of the campaign,” Strauss said. “I have seen example after example where, if the CFC had been ideologica­l in its operation, then certain charities on the left or the right would have been declined.”

“One of the strengths of the campaign is that OPM administra­tors do not approach charity eligibilit­y from an ideologica­l perspectiv­e,” he added. “They leave it to the donors to decide. … One of the inevitable consequenc­es of this nonideolog­ical approach to who gets to enter the campaign is that every once in a while, a group enters the campaign which … would make most of us wince.”

Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, understand­s why ideology is not considered in eligibilit­y rules but said allowing contributi­ons to “an organizati­on with a mission in direct conflict with the U.S. Constituti­on, particular­ly the 13th Amendment,” which outlawed slavery, is “offensive” and “outrageous­ly inappropri­ate.”

He added, “I think there’s something wrong with the policy.”

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