Newtown, Aurora Victims Seek National Compassion Fund on White House Petition Site

Sascha Burkard/Shutterstock.com

The proposal would deliver tax-deductible donations to victims’ families with no overhead.

An informal group of victims’ families from the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and other tragedies is petitioning the White House to help people donate to victims of similar tragedies without losing some of those donations to a non-profit’s operating costs.

The 64 families posted their petition to the White House’s We the People site on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said, and it became visible to the public early Thursday.

The petition asks the White House to establish a National Compassion Fund that will accept tax-deductible donations during a national tragedy and forward 100 percent of those donations to the tragedies’ victims and their families. About 200 people had signed the petition as of 4 p.m. Thursday.

When a tragedy strikes, there’s often no easy way to donate money directly to victims and their families, the group’s spokeswoman Caryn Kaufman said. Money donated through nonprofits and foundations often gets divided between funds to help victims and broader projects focused on educating the public or building memorials. Some of those donations are also diverted to support the organizations’ other missions or to cover operating expenses, she said.

When families set up their own funds, such as the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, they can’t allow donors to take tax deductions. In the case of the Sandy Hook fund, that has kept several corporations in nearby New York City from making donations, she said. Volunteer managers of these one-off funds are also often ill-equipped to manage the complicated rules and regulations of raising money for donation.

Kaufman works in public relations in Bridgeport, Conn., and has friends among the Newtown families that launched the My Sandy Hook Family Fund following the December shooting.

“If you want to support funding for the arts or to build a memorial to remember the event, that’s fabulous and you can do that,” she said. “But if the public donates millions of dollars following a tragedy based on seeing images of your loved ones on TV and in the newspapers it’s not unreasonable that they should be able give that money straight to [those families], not to non-profits or to other causes that really have nothing to do with the people who’ve suffered.”

Details of the National Compassion Fund still have to be worked out, Kaufman said. The fund might be managed by the federal government and could begin accepting funds for the victims of a particular tragedy based on a president’s order, she said.

The victim’s families who launched the petition are only informally connected and don’t have a name for their group or a larger mission, she said. They posted their petition to We the People because they liked that the site guarantees a White House response for any petition that exceeds 100,000 signatures, she said. They were also concerned their petition could get lost among the thousands of pleas on popular privately-owned petition sites such as Change.org, she said.

We the People has grown significantly since its Sept. 2011 launch, but still hosts only a tiny share of online petitions. Most We the People petitions that cross the threshold for a White House reply receive standard statements of administration policy or an explanation for why the White House doesn’t have jurisdiction over the matter.

The White House has used We the People to announce new policy positions in a handful of cases including, most recently, its support for reforms to re-legalize unlocking cellphones.

The group that launched the My Sandy Hook Family Fund was contacted soon after the fund’s launch by victims’ families from the July 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colo., Kaufman said, and then by victims of other tragedies going back to the Columbine high school shootings in 1999.

It became clear the families touched by each tragedy had learned important lessons that were never institutionalized in a way to help future victims, she said. That was the genesis of the national compassion fund petition.

The families that launched the petition plan to seek signatures through social media and have issued press releases to newspapers near where their tragedies occurred, she said. They’ve also contacted their members of Congress to advocate for the fund. 

(Image via Sascha Burkard/Shutterstock.com)

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