As she nears the end of her first year in Congress, U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) has stepped up to speak on behalf of the charitable community. In this interview she reflects upon Detroit’s Grand Bargain, the contributions philanthropy made, and Congress’ role in creating a tax code that provides certainty to the process.
U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) brings a unique perspective to Detroit’s Grand Bargain. Not only does she represent Michigan’s 12th district just southwest of Detroit, but for more than 30 years, she worked in Michigan philanthropy.
She said philanthropy has transformed in three decades and she credits that change to making the Grand Bargain possible all these years later.
“Philanthropy has changed,” said Rep. Dingell. “[Corporate philanthropy] tended to be pet-project driven without metrics or goals or partnerships. Now the foundation world and the private-public partnerships are really making a difference and…driving change. What has happened would not have happened without the foundations.”
Rep. Dingell is familiar with how corporate philanthropy works. She ran the General Motors Foundation as president for many years. Now as a Member of Congress, she said she not only sees the changes the foundations have made in communities, but she wants to ensure our federal policies allow for that kind of work to take place. She likened the certainty that was offered by the foundation money to the certainty needed in the tax code for charities and foundations.
“Rather than years of uncertain litigation that would have left all these stakeholders in limbo about the status of the DIA and fear that all these pensioners faced, the grand bargain was a compromise that provided certainty for everybody,” she said. “Foundations and their beneficiaries don’t operate on a month-to-month basis. They plan their operations for years in advance so it’s critical that we have a tax code that provides them with certainty as well instead of this endless cycle of year-end, and sometimes retroactive, legislation.”
Looking ahead, Rep. Dingell is confident Detroit will make a comeback. She also cautions that all stakeholders need to start thinking more about Detroit’s effect on the greater region and that region’s effect on Detroit.
“There is a lot of hard work ahead,” she said. “We have to foster that spirit of remembering we’re all in a region and it goes both ways.”