Non-profit

National League of Cities

This is the logo for the National League of Cities as found on the company's website. (link)
Website:

www.nlc.org%20

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

53-0226780

DUNS Number:

07-264-9569 (DUNS)

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $19,891,223
Expenses: $19,308,333
Assets: $38,081,838

Executive Director:

Clarence E. Anthony

The National League of Cities (NLC) is a left-leaning network of over 19,000 American communities that engages in federal policy advocacy and leads educational programming on behalf of city governments. [1] Founded in 1924, NLC has been involved in political advocacy for almost a century, frequently aligning itself with left-of-center policy initiatives despite being an ostensibly nonpartisan organization with cross-party membership. [2]

Each year, NLC adopts a federal policy agenda at its national conference, covering a range of issues from recommending environmentalist policy to advocating for left-of-center gun control measures. [3] In 2019 alone, NLC spent over $2.1 million on federal advocacy, more than it spent on research, membership, strategic partnerships, or constituent programs. [4]

Most of NLC’s policy centers around implementing left-of-center infrastructure, environmentalist-aligned development, and housing policy, encouraging the federal government to pour funding into programs that support local governments while simultaneously demanding that the federal government become less involved in the oversight of local government. [5] Despite having member cities run by Republican leaders, NLC frequently criticizes conservative policies, especially relating to immigration restriction and the response to the 2020 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. [6] [7]

History

In December of 1924, 10 state municipal leagues founded the American Municipal Association to strengthen local government through national organizing. [8] Initially, the Municipal Association consisted only of state municipal leagues that would collect and exchange information about urban policy to share information and promote successful models of city government. [9] In 1947, the Municipal Association opened up its membership to individual cities that had over 100,000 citizens, a threshold which gradually lowered over the next several decades. [10]

In 1964, the Municipal Association shifted its focus to encouraging individual cities to join as members, rebranding as the National League of Cities (NLC). In 1977, the NLC fully opened its membership to all cities regardless of size, requiring only that individual cities were also members of their state municipal leagues in order to join and allowing all individual member cities to have voting powers. [11]

In 1974, NLC sought to challenge several amendments made in 1974 to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would make the FLSA applicable to state employers, suing then-Secretary of Labor William Usery, Jr. [12] NLC claimed that the enforcement of the FLSA against states would violate the Tenth Amendment. [13] The Supreme Court ruled in favor of NLC, but the decision was later overturned in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority eleven years later. [14] [15]

Nearly half a century later, NLC has broadened its work to include a National Municipal Policy program to push for largely left-of-center municipal reforms on a national scale in Washington, D.C. [16] In addition to adopting a full advocacy agenda, NLC hosts trainings, educational programs, and conferences to guide municipal officials in handling issues of local government, in addition to maintaining publications to apprise members of federal regulations and policy updates from other member cities. [17]

As of 2020, over 1600 individual cities, towns, and villages are NLC members, and an additional 18,000 communities are included in NLC advocacy through their state municipal leagues. [18] Local leaders from even the smallest member cities may be elected to serve as NLC officials, and all voting members share equal seats in shaping organization policies and advocacy work, regardless of the size of the communities they represent. [19]

National Municipal Policy Platform

Each year, the National League of Cities publishes a National Municipal Policy and Resolutions, a list of positions designed to unify policy efforts among cities across the United States. [20] These platforms include a range of left-of-center positions in areas from financial policy to gun control. [21]

In 2019, NLC’s policy platform called on the federal government to expand funding for local projects, claiming that federal policies and regulations “should not mandate new costs for local governments.” [22] NLC’s platform further claimed that discretion over the use of federal funds should be granted to “the lowest and most directly-connected level of government possible,” while simultaneously demanding that NLC representatives be included in the federal rulemaking process. [23] NLC’s “financial” policy recommendations extended far beyond the scope of fiscal policies, including provisions to “resolve the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws” and provide the “cannabis market” access to the “federally regulated banking system.” [24]

NLC’s 2019 policy platform listed several left-of-center resolutions only vaguely related to city governance, including resolutions to oppose the addition of a citizenship question to the United States Census, oppose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, and call on the federal government to enhance environmentalist programs to prevent climate change. [25] NLC’s platform further expressed support for a wide range of left-of-center environmental programs, including enhancing the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), investing in natural resource restoration projects, and enforcing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). [26]

Through the 2019 platform, NLC pushed the federal government to adopt left-of-center economic policy to reduce inequality. In one resolution, NLC called on the federal government to  “make economic mobility a federal priority” by doubling funding for economic development grants in just one year while simultaneously enacting “the broadest possible definition of economic development to permit EDA grant funding for innovative programs” at the discretion of local governments. [27] The NLC platform further advised the federal government to adopt programs to combat gentrification, invest substantially in low-income housing, and authorize $13.2 billion in mandatory funding for local development projects. [28] In a 2020 interview with the Crux, a Catholic magazine, NLC’s director of federal advocacy Irma Esparza Diggs called housing inequality the product of “intentional discriminatory housing policies” and claiming that race plays a major factor in household stability. [29]

Aside from promoting left-of-center economic initiatives, the NLC 2019 platform adopted a range of resolutions fully unrelated to city governance, calling for left-of-center immigration reform, the creation of a holiday commemorating the passage of the 13th Amendment, and the regulation of advertising by communications companies. [30] NLC also published an agenda in 2020 calling for strict gun control policies, including universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers. [31]

Federal Advocacy Agenda

National League of Cities has adopted a full federal advocacy agenda, promoting left-of-center national policy on infrastructure, housing, the opioid academic, censusing, tax policy, community resilience, federal program renewal, and communications. [32]

Infrastructure

In 2019, the National League of Cities launched its “Rebuild With Us” campaign, calling on the federal government to massively subsidize the development of city infrastructure, especially in building new transportation networks and improving internet connectivity. [33] In February 2019, NLC announced a range of “asks” for Congress, promoting left-of-center development policies which included establishing long-term infrastructure funding for local municipalities from federal tax dollars, allowing local oversight of the allocation of federal funding, and requesting that Congress “make significant capital investments” into infrastructure projects in individual communities. [34]

Much of NLC’s infrastructure recommendations involve the federal government writing effective “blank checks” to be used on infrastructure projects at the discretion of individual cities. [35] Some of NLC’s proposals include federal grants for “any transportation solution that eases congestion” to be used at the discretion of municipalities and incentivized production of zero-emission vehicles to reduce greenhouse gases. [36] Many of NLC’s “infrastructure” programs actually relate back to left-of-center education policy. These include funding local programs for job training and trade schools, expanding the Pell Grant program to include short-term training and certification programs, and establishing a “permanent summer jobs program” to fund work opportunities for young people between 14 and 24. [37]

NLC’s infrastructure proposals also push a left-of-center environmentalist agenda. [38] In 2019, NLC’s federal government agenda items included creating a “mandatory funding source” for a program to help cities create and maintain parks and instituting sweeping regulations to limit permissible greenhouse gas emissions. [39] In 2020, NLC joined the Earth Day Network as a “key partner” in the efforts to make “stepped-up environmental action a corner stone.” [40]

NLC publishes talking points, a social media and op-ed action guide, and guidance for individuals to have meeting with congressional representatives to promote citizen action to support its infrastructure campaign. [41] Most of NLC’s talking points and writing advice center around promoting mass federal investment in cities, calling for a $1 trillion investment in water infrastructure and $2 trillion investment in highways and bridges. [42] NLC-published guides also encourage citizens to pressure congressional representatives to adopt left-of-center fiscal policy, including the reinstatement of advance refunding bonds to allow cities to have artificially low interest rates on municipal debt. [43]

Fiscal Policy

National League of Cities recommends a range of left-of-center policy planks related to subsidizing local programs using federal dollars, most notably on the question of housing. NLC’s platform claims that there is a “widening gap between wages and rents” causing a “housing crisis” in which “affordably priced homes” are “disappearing.” [44] To rectify this, NLC has called on Congress to increase funding for federal housing programs, claiming that cities and states are not capable of solving the problem or providing funding themselves. [45]

NLC also opposed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, calling on Congress to “eliminate the $10,000 cap on the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction, and restore the tax exemption for advancing refund bonds.” [46] NLC claimed that reversing the latter change, which was originally designed to prevent abuses of federal bonds, would allow cities to finance their debt for artificially low interest rates, which would inspire cities to invest more capital in infrastructure development. [47]

Despite demanding substantial increases in federal funding for local programs, NLC has resisted federal interference in local affairs. When discussing communications policy, NLC claims that cities “have faced a rising tide of preemption” by state and federal governments in recent years, citing a 2019 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation that limits the authority of cities and states to regulate streetlights and utility poles used to deploy 5G communications technologies. [48] NLC called on Congress to support H.R. 530, the Accelerating Wireless Broadband Development by Empowering Local Communities Act of 2019, which would repeal FCC regulations requiring local governments to subsidize the deployment of 5G infrastructure on public property. [49]

Activities

Grassroots and Legislative Campaigning

National League of Cities operates primarily through grassroots campaigning, encouraging supporters to take action on issues ranging from COVID-19 response to city communications programs. [50] NLC uses Twitter functions that allow users to directly tweet support for left-of-center initiatives endorsed by the NLC, including support for a massive “Phase 4” stimulus bill to counteract the social impact of COVID-19. [51] Many of these tweets are sent directly in support of Democratic-initiated  bills, including the BUILDS Act to provide more federal funding for education programs, the Moving FIRST Act to expand federal grants for local innovation programs, and the Digital Equity Act to provide federal funding for local internet expansion programs. [52]

Aside from organizing grassroots campaigns, the NLC has worked directly in advocating for left-of-center bills related to local policy. [53] These include a bill supporting the establishment of a substantial stimulus package for the federal highway system and a resolution to prevent “future government shutdowns” by  passing a bill to support city infrastructure, housing, and community development projects through Congress by September 30 of 2020. [54]

State Legislative Efforts

Just as NLC has routinely criticized the federal government for interfering with local policy, it has leveled similar charges at state governments, claiming in a 2017 report that states have become more active in asserting preemptive rights under Dillon’s Rule, a rule stating that a local government can only act if given specific permission by a state. [55] In that same report, NLC performed an analysis arguing that “every state was guilty of preemption in at least one policy area,” most often in taxation and spending. [56] NLC representatives complained that states were leveraging heavy tax burdens on cities in order to pay for expensive statewide programs. [57]

In 2019, following heavy lobbying by NLC and various other local government interest groups, the Texas Legislature sought to pass a bill which would severely restrict the lobbying powers of local governments. [58] NLC representatives criticized the bill and defended state lobbying, arguing that “residents understand the value of having their local elected officials’ voices heard in statehouses.” [59] After progressing steadily through the legislature, the bill failed just two days before the end of the session, though it is likely to be reintroduced in 2021. [60]

Educational Programs

Aside from its direct advocacy programs, National League of Cities operates a range of committees and educational programs at the state level. One of NLC’s largest programs is the Center for City Solutions, which provides research and analysis on policies related to American cities. [61] Such research reports include left-of-center policy recommendations, including advocating for the use of anti-capitalist “collaborative consumption,” a resource-sharing, left-wing economic system which NLC hailed as a potential way of life for American cities of the future. [62] The Center for City Solutions also runs a series of educational programs, including the Equitable Economic Development Fellowship to educate six city leaders each year on left-of-center social policy and numerous environmentalist programs. [63]

NLC runs a series of institutes to train city leaders in community development initiatives. The Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF) draws leaders looking to implement public educational programs in their municipalities, including financial literacy, early childhood education, and youth civic engagement programs. [64] YEF also organizes programs that push city leaders to adopt left-of-center policies directly, launching “challenges” for leaders to implement programs such as anti-landlord housing reform. [65] YEF promotes educational programs that offer environmentalist messaging around sustainability and advocate for left-of-center juvenile justice reform. [66]

One of NLC’s most recently developed programs is the Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL) initiative designed to address racial inequity in cities in the wake of rioting in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. [67] REAL works with cities to provide educational training for city leaders in diverse areas, arguing that it is up to city leaders to combat “structural racism.” [68] REAL organizes community conversations around race and ethnicity in American cities, in addition to going into cities themselves to provide an eighteen month program called Equity and Racial Healing Technical Assistance and operating a “REAL Tactical Team” for responding to racial unrest. [69]

Membership Programs

Aside from running outward-facing educational programs, NLC operates a series of members-only initiatives, most notably the NLC Risk Information Sharing Consortium (RISC). [70] The program is comprised of intergovernmental risk-sharing pools sponsored by state municipal leagues in 32 states and two Canadian provinces. [71] RISC provides staff and trustee training on pooling operations and creates policies for pool operations and service delivery. [72] RISC member pools offer property, liability, workers compensation, unemployment, and benefit programs to over 16,000 local governments. [73] The RISC program also distributes a monthly industry news briefing to its members, in addition to hosting online specialty chat groups and two annual conferences for staff and trustees. [74]

NLC member cities also have access to a range of financial benefits, including Grant Access, a database that helps city leaders locate project grants from a field of over 10,000 opportunities. [75] NLC members receive further financial benefits through the Public Finance Authority, a tax-exempt bond issuing authority for economic development projects, and the Build America Mutual program, a provider of financial guaranty insurance on debt for municipalities. [76] Residents of member cities also receive access to the NLC Prescription Discount Program, which allows uninsured residents to receive large discounts on prescription medication, and access to the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, which provides low costs warranties for utility line repairs to decrease repair prices. [77]

Criticism of Republican Policy

Despite being a purportedly nonpartisan organization, NLC has taken several shots at Republicans in recent years, especially at President Donald Trump. In 2016, following his election, President Donald Trump vowed in his victory speech to “fix our inner cities.” [78] NLC director of federal advocacy Michael Wallace claimed that NLC was “concerned” by the comments, saying that the organization members “push back against the narrative that cities are run down” and claiming that they “don’t need ‘fixing,’” despite pushing for large-scale federal funding programs to revitalize urban areas. [79] Following the 2016 election, when Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House, Wallace claimed that conservative control of the federal government would lead to “greater fiscal pressure” on cities. [80]

Wallace went on to criticize right-of-center attempts to limit the use of “sanctuary cities,” cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities. [81] When Republican lawmakers proposed a bill which would deny funding to sanctuary cities, Wallace called the measure “horse-trading” federal money over social policy and saying the NLC would be “very opposed” to the idea of withholding money to cities that don’t comply with federal law. [82]

2020 Election Task Force

Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, members of NLC created the 2020 Presidential Election Task Force, a bipartisan committee established to put together an “inclusive agenda” to address the concerns of cities across the United States. [83] Though the task force was chaired by one Democrat and one Republican leader, the group published a left-of-center policy agenda, especially on issues of gun control and housing development. [84]

The agenda called on any presidential candidate to commit to education policies including expanding the Pell grant program to cover workforce and skills training and increasing investment in creating jobs in childcare and transportation. [85] NLC further called on presidential candidates to increase federal funding for local emergency services programs and commit to pouring money into anti-market low income housing programs. [86] The agenda also demanded an extensive gun control platform, including the creation of a “national commission on gun violence” to write new regulations, the advancement of legislation to require “fully federally funded and completed background checks for all gun sales and transfers,” and federal legislation which would allow judges to order that certain individuals cannot own firearms if they are deemed a “risk.” [87]

COVID-19 Response

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, NLC urged the Department of the Treasury to allow relief funding to be allocated in accordance with city priorities, rather than given to states to distribute as they pleased for cities with under 500,000 residents. [88] The Treasury had allowed only those cities with more than 500,000 residents to apply directly for aid, prompting outrage from NLC, which published an open letter to President Donald Trump calling on a change to the policy. [89]

NLC continued to criticize the pandemic response on the organization’s own blog, Cities Speak, claiming that local governments had been left in a position to “go-it-alone” with “disastrous” economic consequences. [90] NLC claimed that the lack of aid to local governments would “exacerbate infrastructure challenges” and cause cities to “severely cut services,” resulting in increased unemployment. [91] The policy brief called on “federal relief for local governments that have been on the frontlines of this crisis.” [92]

In May of 2020, NLC continued to voice concerns over coronavirus relief efforts, calling for Congress to allocate at least $500 billion in aid to cities and localities for coronavirus relief in the next stimulus package. [93]

Funding

In 2019, National League of Cities reported $33,115,060 in revenue and $35,361,744 in expenses, in addition to $22 million in net assets. [94] In 2019 alone, NLC spent over $2.1 million on federal advocacy, more than it spent on research, membership, strategic partnerships, or constituency programming despite being a tax-exempt educational and networking organization. [95] NLC received more funding from outside contributions than any other source, receiving $10.8 million in contributions and contracts in 2019 alone. [96] NLC also collected over $6 million in membership dues and took in over $3.8 million in service fees. [97] This marked a sharp trend away from previous years, with NLC reporting just $28,000 in contributions and grants in 2018 with the vast majority of its revenue ($24.1 million) coming from program services. [98]

In addition to direct contributions, NLC valued “donated services” to account for over $4.6 million in revenue and conference revenue at $2.4 million. [99] NLC also brought in over $3.6 million through corporate partnerships, including engagements with companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Wells Fargo, and Walmart. [100] [101] NLC has also received substantial funding from left-of-center grantmaking organizations, including over $3 million from the MacArthur Foundation, in addition to gifts from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Democracy Fund. [102] [103] [104]

People

Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO and executive director of NLC. [105] Anthony spent over two decades as mayor of South Bay, Florida, where he was first elected mayor at just 24 years old. [106] Prior to working as executive director of NLC, Anthony served as NLC president and as first vice president of the International Union of Local Authorities. [107] Anthony was further involved in city organizing as founding treasurer of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), where he also served as interim manager. [108] Prior to working with NLC, Anthony worked as president of Anthony Government Solutions, a consulting firm for government and private sector organizations interested in policy and business development. [109]

References

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Donor Organizations

  1. Hopewell Fund (Non-profit)

Supported Movements

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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: September - August
  • Tax Exemption Received: May 1, 1933

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Sep Form 990 $19,891,223 $19,308,333 $38,081,838 $14,000,816 Y $39,885 $16,059,534 $763,876 $882,983 PDF
    2016 Sep Form 990 $14,489,194 $18,373,862 $38,549,228 $14,049,993 Y $150,000 $14,995,840 $983,333 $1,004,411
    2015 Sep Form 990 $17,362,418 $15,969,863 $34,053,595 $6,716,610 Y $0 $14,525,272 $1,262,850 $949,886 PDF
    2014 Sep Form 990 $15,494,926 $15,313,791 $34,593,210 $6,433,511 Y $73,194 $14,227,205 $804,180 $907,535 PDF
    2013 Sep Form 990 $16,251,506 $14,240,077 $34,906,757 $8,082,427 Y $0 $12,865,388 $781,799 $860,387 PDF
    2012 Sep Form 990 $15,106,953 $14,502,334 $30,340,805 $6,293,230 Y $0 $12,257,696 $258,893 $749,072 PDF
    2011 Sep Form 990 $16,968,701 $16,991,097 $27,132,540 $6,100,995 Y $0 $13,811,089 $1,483,963 $740,982 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    National League of Cities

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