Fed Worker Charity Unimpeded by Lawsuit

Donations to the Washington-area Combined Federal Campaign (search) are up $5.8 million from this time last year, despite a lawsuit by an ACLU-led coalition charging that the program's new requirements are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit challenges an Office of Personnel Management (search) rule requiring that groups which get money from the charity campaign must check their staff lists against government watch lists of suspected terrorists.

But the suit has not had any apparent impact on donations in the Washington area, said Anthony DeCristofaro, executive director of the National Capital Area CFC. The campaign invites local federal workers to donate to one of 3,200 local and national charities.

"That's not stopping the generosity of the federal workers who want to donate money to the charities that they want," DeCristofaro said Wednesday of the lawsuit.

He said his organization has raised over $31 million since the drive began in September, and is on its way toward reaching its $54 million goal by Dec. 31. That would top the $50.7 million raised last year from 157,000 Washington-region donors, he said.

Nationwide, the CFC raised $248 million last year from about 320 local campaigns. But the Office of Personnel Management, which runs the campaign, could not provide a national fund-raising total Wednesday, a spokesman said.

OPM last week sent out a clarification of the new rules, explaining how participating non-profits could comply with the regulations and what they should do if they find a staff member's name on the terrorist watch list.

But the Nov. 24 memo has not eased the coalition's concerns, said American Civil Liberties Union (search) spokeswoman Emily Whitfield.

"The clarification doesn't cure all the problems that we went to the trouble of filing a lawsuit over," she said.

The ACLU is one of 13 non-profit organizations that filed suit against OPM in federal district court on Nov. 10, claiming that the new regulations violate federal law, as well as the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

While the latest OPM memo provided some clarification, questions remain, such as how organizations determine if a match is valid, and what happens to staff that are reported to the government, critics said.

"Even if there was only one list, it would still be a problem," said Annalee Newitz, spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is one of the groups in the suit.

But the government has orders from the president to make sure federal workers are not supporting terrorist organizations, DeCristofaro said, and the CFC has to follow those security measures.

Only a handful of the 10,000 charities across the country have actually withdrawn from the program, he said. If a federal worker designates one of those groups for a donation, he is told the group is no longer participating and is asked to choose another, DeCristofaro said.

He said that fewer than 10 donors have asked him why their charity is not participating.

Global Impact (search), the non-profit firm that is managing the Washington-area campaign, said it has not had any problems complying with the new regulations. Making the staff checks is not as onerous a task as opponents charge, said Steve Ristow, chief operating officer of Global Impact.

"We make sure that we're totally in synch with what OPM wants," Ristow said.

Critics claim that there may be as many as 14 lists that organizations have to check, but OPM claimed in its Nov. 24 memo that there are only two such lists, Ristow said. The memo also noted that OPM has provided a telephone number to use in case of a possible match and states they are to check the lists annually.

Global Impact downloads the lists or searches them for matches online, "and that's all there is to it," Ristow said.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.