A drive to raise money for charity would ideally avoid political controversy.
The Combined Federal Campaign has been around since 1961 and it has usually avoided political controversy. That, no doubt, is difficult since some the organizations included in the campaign are not thought of as traditional charities by many federal employees. Some of these charities are involved in controversial issues.
Nevertheless, the CFC keeps rolling along and seems to be more successful each year.
Last year, the campaign became embroiled in a dispute over the requirement of charities to certify that they were not affiliated with people or groups on terrorist watch lists. (See Policy, Politics and Charity) The requirement led to litigation and controversy that, presumably, the officials in the CFC did not want as they were embarking on the annual drive seeking money for charity.
In a poll of readers taken at the time, a number of readers said they would be limiting their donations to the CFC during last year’s campaign.
But that didn’t seem to make much difference. Despite the controversy, the CFC steamroller moved along. And, according to OPM, last year was a very successful one for the campaign. Federal employees and military personnel pledges some $257 million to the CFC in 2004. That three precent increase set a new record and easily broke the 2003 campaign results of $248.5 million. That was a reduction from the five percent increase experienced by the 2003 campaign but there is no doubt the campaign was still successful.
So it may be that the negative publicity actually helped the campaign–or at least didn’t hurt it.
This year, numerous readers raised a new issue regarding the Combined Federal Campaign. This time, the controversy is outside the control of campaign officials. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the 2006 federal pay raise, readers started stating in their comments that they intended to cut back on the CFC contributions this year either because they felt short-changed by Congress and the Administration on their pay raise or because they felt they were not keeping up with increased expenses and would therefore be donating less money this year.
As a result, FedSmith.com asked readers several related questions in a new survey.
On the first question, "Have you donated or do you plan to donate to the Combined Federal Campaign this year?", 45% answered "yes." 42% answered "no" and 13 percent indicated they were not sure.
On the question, "Has the controversy over the 2006 federal employee pay raise impacted your donation to the CFC this year?", 49% responded "yes", 43% said "no" and 6% were still undecided. 3% selected the "other" option.
And, third, "What impact, if any, will the pay raise controversy have on your CFC donation", 39% said they will be donating less money. Another 39% said the controversy will not have any impact, 2% indicated they will be donating more money and 11% were undecided. 10% of readers responding selected the "other" option for this question.
As you can see from last year’s survey, the controversy surrounding the CFC may have slowed the rate of increase in charitable contributions, but it did not have a significant impact on the campaign. It is possible that some readers like to "blow off steam" and vent their anger but, when it comes time to donate to the CFC, they relent and pledge the money despite their anger or exasperation. It is also possible that this year’s pay raise controversy is more personal since it impacts the pay of federal employees whereas the controversy last year was more abstract.
In any event here are some of the comments from readers to our latest poll.
Here is a small sample of comments from readers who indicated the raise controversy would impact their donations this year.
A program analyst with the USDA in Salt Lake City, UT said: "Charity does indeed start at home, and if my government feels that I as one of its employees must suffer the load of rebuilding the South, then my CFC funds will have to go to those I love and hold dear first and foremost… my family. Sorry my normal benefactors, but I can not give at an even greater loss to my own family."
A secretary with the Army Human Resources Command in St. Louis wrote: "I donated but will stop the donation if the pay raise doesn’t go through. I donated before the controversy came up."
A human resources specialist with DoD who works overseas commented: "With less pay – that equates to less money for CFC – with the price of gas exploding –things are already tight as a drum so there is no money to spare!"
A program analyst with HUD from Baltimore, MD opined: "It’s totally unbelieveable that with a rise in gas prices, heating prices, and everything else–even stamps are increasing two cents, the gov’t would even consider freezing our 2006 pay. Its so easy for the rich to take from the poor or the less fortunate. I would bet everything that they (White House) will receive all their increases. Unfortunately I will not be contributing to the CFC this year."
A traffic management specialist with the Air Force in Layton, UT commented: "We have become our own charity."
An attorney with the Dept. of Transportation in Washington, DC had this observation: "The amount of my CFC donations is normally tied to the amount of my cost of living increase. If we do not receive an increase, I will not be able to donate. In addition, of the increase is smaller than expected, my donation will reflect that."
An HR specialist with the Navy in Philadelphia, PA wrote: "I already decided not to contribute to CFC this because the cost of health benefits is increasing dramatically. I can not change my benefits due to a pending procedure. If there is no pay raise, my net income will decrease dramatically."’
An electronics technician with the FAA in Kansas City expressed his anger this way: "I would encourage all Federal Employees to boycott the CFC this year. To single out Federal Employees to be the fall guys is wrong, but what would you expect from politicians?"
An accountant with the Corps of Engineers in Memphis expressed this thought: "I see no reason to donate to CFC if my pay raise is suspended. The money I will not receive should be enough of a donation. Donating to CFC and the suspended pay raise for the hurricane cleanup, is like double jeopardy."
An attorney with the Department of Labor in Washington, DC expressed an opinion but hedged as to whether he will donate to the CFC this year: "As a government attorney, I already make far less than even entry-level lawyers in the private sector, and I’ve already hit the pay ceiling for non-SES employees in my agency. But I consider myself a public servant, so I haven’t griped. To ask all public servants to take involuntary pay cuts (which, given the rising cost of living, is the actual effect of a pay ‘freeze’) is patently unfair."
And an inventory manager with the DoD in San Antonio, TX said: "I do not think that I should have to be penalized to rebuild the Gulf States. The people that live there know the risk and should have the insurance, etc. I have insurance or whatever is required for my quality of life. I should not have to pay for their unpreparedness."
But not all readers felt the same way about donating to the CFC this year.
A supervisor with the Dept. of Treasury in Jacksonville, FL wrote: "I will not let the fact that the White House and Congress have no conscience affect the much needed assistance then millions of people need."
A librarian with the Army in Washington, DC commented: "My charitable contributions are based on what I feel my duty to society is, not on what pay raise I may or may not get."
A supervisory contract specialist with the IRS in San Francisco said: "I consider it a priviledge to be a public servant. Supporting CFC is a small way of making that statement to the commuity in which I live, even if it is anonymous."
A program analyst with the DoD in Hampton, VA expressed some cynicism: "Not contributing will not reduce tax bite come spring. Somebody (e.g. IRS involuntarily or charities voluntarily) is going to get our $$$s. In my mind it’s better to give to charities and write off contributions on tax form than allow Uncle Sam’s to use my money to pay for outrageous highway bill…."
An attorney with the Social Security Administration in Washington took a philosophical approach: "Of course I would like to get a pay raise in 2006. Who wouldn’t? But there are a lot of people in this world who suffer terribly, and I will not withhold my CFC contribution to protest the actions of our elected leaders, no matter how much I may disagree with them. I hope all feds who are capable of giving will continue to do so this year."
An inspector with the Department of Labor wrote: "I don’t believe penalizing charitable organizations by restricting donations is the best way to protest adverse decisions affecting our pay. Why should Congress care to whom and how much we are voluntarily contributing?"
The Director of the VA in Pittsburgh, PA commented: "CFC is an opportunity to give back to those less fortunate than me."
And a public housing specialist with HUD in Detroit had this plea for readers: "I am grateful just to be working and in good health. In dire neccessity we must give. In all good consciousness I can not sit by and not be part of the solution regardless of what others do or not do. None of my problems stack up to the recent disasters occurring and facing people down south. As fellow Americans I ask you now to express your love for one another by supporting our fellow American who are continuously living through this nightmare. I count my blessing and thank Jesus Christ I am able to give. I ask you to put aside any feeling of helplessness and join me in this yearly effort to lessen the pain of misery. Give from the heart. Please."
Our thanks to the many readers who took the time to send in their comments on this issue.