Can municipalities make charitable donations?
June 2, 2002
A: Generally, no. The “anti-aid” amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution (Article 46, as amended by Article 103 of the Articles of Amendment) prohibits the use of public money or property “for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any infirmary, hospital, institution, primary or secondary school, or charitable or religious undertaking” that is not publicly owned and controlled. An expenditure may be considered acceptable, however, if it is for a public purpose that also benefits a private organization in an incidental way, according to the Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services. Providing public funds or property for use by veterans’ organizations is generally considered a public purpose that does not conflict with the Massachusetts Constitution. Chapter 40, Section 9, of the Massachusetts General Laws, for example, permits municipalities to appropriate funds to provide headquarters for veterans’ organizations.