In early October, Ammon city councilors implemented a charity policy that allowed them to donate taxpayer dollars to private non-profit organizations. Last Friday, the mayor reversed this policy.

Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith

The reversal was the proper thing to do because it put the city back in accordance with the Idaho Constitution. The policy Ammon city councilors passed allowed them to dole out $20,000 this year to non-profit organizations. City-based charities could have applied for a grant and receive between $1,000 and $8,000.

In 2017, four community groups received funding from the city of Ammon: The Museum of Idaho, Idaho Falls Arts Council, Meals on Wheels, and Scottish Festival organizers. Though the grants to said organizations seem innocuous, there was a problem with this giveaway program: It was unconstitutional.

The Idaho Constitution’s Gift Clause, found in Article 8, section 4, clearly prohibits public subsidies to private organizations, including charities. The clause reads: “No county, city, town, township, board of education, or school district, or other subdivision, shall lend, or pledge the credit or faith thereof directly or indirectly, in any manner, to, or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, for any amount or for any purpose whatever, or become responsible for any debt, contract or liability of any individual, association or corporation in or out of this state.”

When the Idaho Freedom Foundation heard about Ammon’s policy, it raised questions with the city administrator wondering why the councilors implemented the policy despite the Idaho Constitution’s Gift Clause. According to the Idaho Constitution, no city is allowed to give money to private organizations. After IFF approached Ammon’s city administrator regarding the constitution and questioned the policy’s lawfulness, the administrator said he and the mayor wanted to “do the right thing” and suspend the charity policy.

The Gift Clause is meant to prohibit government involvement in private ventures and thus reduce corruption and cronyism. The clause is also needed to prevent private interests from gaining advantages at taxpayers’ expense. Why is the Gift Clause important to Ammon residents and all other Idahoans? It helps prevents the government from picking winners and losers, be they nonprofit or for-profit. The Gift Clause also prevents the politicization of these organizations. Finally, the Gift Clause would leave the business of charitable giving to Ammon resident’s or Idahoans, not to government officials.

Thankfully, Ammon city officials recognized the unconstitutional nature of their government-charity policy and reversed it. Hopefully, this correct action will encourage other cities to reverse similar policies they may have.

Harrison Smith is a local policy researcher with the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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