Patriotic investing

Concordia’s corporate inversion tactics

A trending news topic of the past few weeks has been corporate inversions, or the act of changing a corporation’s tax base to pay fewer taxes. Journalists and politicians have asked whether we should expect corporations to remain centered in the United States and face higher taxes. Burger King executives, in their decision to shift the company’s tax base to Canada, would answer “no.” Politicians and customers have derided these decisions, claiming it’s unpatriotic to dodge American taxes. This conversation is critically important, and it’s time to apply it to organizations you and I can influence directly. We should be discussing the obligations of our community nonprofits.

Let’s take a look at Concordia – a college, but more broadly a nonprofit corporation. We can glean plenty of information from Concordia’s Form 990 (the exciting tax form nonprofits submit annually), but let me highlight just one tidbit: from 2010–2012, Concordia College has increased its “investment activities” in the Caribbean by more than 1800 percent. I’m not a reporter; I don’t know why we’ve increased these investments. I want to ask a question: surely, to echo the sentiments on corporate inversions, there’s a more patriotic way to invest?

If you knew me in high school, you knew me as a debater. Lincoln-Douglas style values debate dramatically influenced my life, and the lessons I learned through debate reassert themselves frequently. I think now of a perennial Lincoln-Douglas topic: the social contract. Debates about the social contract are debates about the obligations of citizens – what can we be expected to do in return for the services the state provides us? The same logic applies to corporate inversions and college investments. There’s nothing illegal happening, but the obligations of an institution may extend beyond legality. Concordia College has an obligation to invest its time and treasure into its backyard.

I look to the framework proposed by the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network: Rethinking Communities. Nonprofits such as colleges and hospitals employ an incredible number of community members. This pattern holds true in Fargo-Moorhead. As anchor institutions, colleges comparable to Concordia should be focusing their effort on local impact. For example, students at New York University and George Washington University have made great headway in pushing their schools to invest some of their endowment into community development financial institutions: funds that solely invest in the college’s community. Our community comprises Fargo, which stands as Forbes’ best place to start a business in the nation. Surely some startups need a helping hand? Our community includes an increasing number of refugees and other new Americans.  Couldn’t they can use new capital? The Fargo-Moorhead community has a swelling homeless population. Wouldn’t they benefit from funds used to create more affordable housing? Dissidents will say we sacrifice some return on investment, but don’t we have an obligation to as members of this community? We should hold the corporations that form the backbones of our communities to higher standards.  I’ll never picture maple leaves while eating a Whopper, nor will I associate palm trees with Concordia. It’s time we expected more from all of our corporations, this college included.

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