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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Nonprofits and Nondisclosure

In our second edition, our chapter on interest groups will offer updated information on their finances.

Open Secrets reports on Americans for Prosperity --the third story in a series about politically active nonprofit organizations that do not publicly disclose their donors. (See the first and second stories in the series here and here.)   AFP has a 501(c)(3) foundation, as well as a 501(c)(4) advocacy group, and the former allows for additional layers of privacy:
Still, the largest bundle of money from a single source came from a conservative 501(c)(3) conduit group called Donors Trust: It was the source of $7.65 million in funds for the AFP Foundation in 2010. Donors Trust is a "donor advised" fund: donors deposit money in accounts they set up and recommend where they'd like it to go. But Donors Trust controls the money and actually makes the contributions to other organizations; it cannot guarantee it will give to the original donors' preferred recipients.

The arrangement provides donors with the same tax-deductibility that they would be entitled to if they gave money directly to the groups they want to assist, according to tax lawyers. But it also provides a further layer of anonymity: not even the IRS knows where a particular donor's money goes after it gets to Donors Trust.
Donors Trust was established in 1999, according to its website, to "ensure the intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise." It's run by Whitney Ball, who used to serve as director of development at the Cato Institute, which Charles Koch helped start decades ago. (The Kochs recently filed suit to try to obtain greater control of Cato.) Ball also heads up a sister organization, Donors Capital, which gave $10,000 to AFP's Foundation in 2010, and transferred $2 million to Donors Trust.

In 2010, the same year it sent millions to AFP's foundation, Donors Trust gave to some entities that aren't tied to conservative ideology, such as the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, but many more that are: the Manhattan Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Mountain States Legal Foundation and the National Right to Work Foundation, to name a few