Tag Archives: nonprofits

Tax-Exemptions

Pearl River     Paying attention to President Trump’s tweets is a fool’s errand, best delegated to journalists paid for the practice.  These are “thought bombs” sometimes disguised as policy or personnel decisions.  They are “Mission Impossible” instructions that dissolve or explode in many cases almost as soon as they are written.  Little more than blustering masked as orders to subordinates and governmental departments, rather than something real.  Yet, it’s a window to the darkness, because it’s the stick he’s using to stir the devil’s brew of mischief and mayhem that he is trying to use to move his base.

The other day he tweeted that he had ordered the Treasury Department to investigate the tax-exemptions of universities because, in his words, they were more involved in “Radical-Left indoctrination, than education.”  Obviously, this is balderdash.  He’s grasping at straws because he’s desperate for universities to reopen, so he can pretend everything is hunky-dory with the virus this fall on Election Day.  Some, like Harvard and MIT, are even suing him over his attempts to deny visas to foreign students and their families if they are not fully enrolled in classes.  All of this despite reports that 60% of the nation’s colleges and universities have already announced that they plan to go full-tilt in the fall, because their business model depends on it.

Little matter.  President Trump feels he can’t go wrong by attacking universities because of the deep-seated anti-intellectualism that has been an undercurrent of American politics for decades.

Playing to the cheap seats is a Trump specialty, so why would we even bother to note it?  Simply put, because attacking tax-exemptions, even in such a shotgun style, harkens back towards a Nixonian-style “enemies list.”  It’s a standard tool of autocrats.  It’s why Russia’s Putin years ago denied licenses for nonprofits of every persuasion.  It’s why India’s Modi has delisted thousands of nonprofits and denied their ability to operate from Greenpeace to the Ford Foundation.  Attacking tax-exemptions for educational and charitable organizations is designed to chill their activity and leave them cowering.   Often it works.

Remember the controversy with the IRS during the Obama years?  Tea Party groups claimed they were being denied tax-exemptions by the IRS, often concealing the fact that the IRS was also investigating left-liberal applications as well.  Republican-controlled Congressional committees have managed to defund the tax-exempt division of the IRS subsequently, leading to more approvals and less scrutiny, so they couldn’t follow Trump’s tweet-storm, even if they wanted to do so.  The IRS at every level is overwhelmed.  Recent reports indicate that refunds will be issued in the by and by at best.

Finally, the issue for tax-exemption, if Trump asks any of you, is not whether there is a political orientation, but whether the activity is nonpartisan.  Tea Party zealots are able to apply and receive exemptions and so are Radical-Left outfits, as long as they are about education and charitable purposes, rather than supporting candidates, like Trump, or parties like the Republicans or the Democrats.  Universities are just grist in that mill.  Tweet away, Mr. President, no one is listening anymore, but we are still keeping count and filing away the information for November.

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More Greenwashing by the Rich

New Orleans     Cases continue to mount, marching forward on an almost daily basis, where we watch the rich attempt to greenwash their wealth and reputations for their private interests and tax benefits and distort the privileges that are claimed by philanthropy.

Ghislaine Maxwell, sometime consort and alleged pimp for Jeffrey Epstein and perhaps an heir to a controversial British publishing fiasco owned by her father until irregularities cropped up after his death, headed a US foundation briefly as she tried to distance herself publicly from Epstein after he did time in 2008 for soliciting underage women for prostitution. The foundation TerraMar, whose name signaled an interest in land and sea, claimed to want to advance the health of the ocean, given Maxwell’s love of yachts. IRS filings indicate that the foundation made no grants during its first five years from 2013 to 2017 according to its 990s, as reviewed by The New York Times. One of her friends was quoted as saying it seemed in one case to be “reputation management,” and another seemed to indicate that the foundation was perhaps more about conserving Maxwell’s reputation as it was conserving the ocean. Of course she may have also been taking a page from his book, since he was a big donor to various scientific efforts and Harvard for his own reputational whitewashing campaign forcing some big whoops to apologize for hanging with him.

Admittedly, these are sordid examples of perverse philanthropy perhaps, but I wonder how different than the usual, and for many of these self-proclaimed philanthropists, how much is ever in the public interest?

Make no mistake. The Internal Revenue Services provides its most favorable ruling of a 501c3 public charity providing a tax exemption for donations for organizations operating in the public, rather than private interest, involving public health, education, and community benefits.

All of this greenwashing of the rich and elite has gotten more attention thanks to the infamous Sackler family that pulled billions out of Purdue Pharma, the notorious manufacturer and hawker of opioids that have killed thousands. Various world-class museums including the Louvre in Paris and the Tate in London, have pulled back from the family or taken their names off the door, so to speak, though few have returned any of the millions they received. Now a fellow was pushed off the board of the Whitney Museum because he made his pile partially by manufacturing tear gas used on protestors around the world. The notorious rightwing, anti-democratic Koch family has their names on many of these cultural institutions for their contributions and does so with impunity, so this is all more window washing, rather than a deep clean.

Now the rich are whining because a boycott was announced of SoulCycle and some other investments by billionaire Steven Ross a primary investor there, real estate mogul, and owner of the Miami Dolphins, because he was hosting a $250,000 a ticket fundraiser for Donald Trump at his place in the Hamptons. Some of their board buddies defend him and others of the tribe loudly for their interest in education, art, opera or whatever, claiming that politics is getting muddled into philanthropy.

Wow, what a specious argument! As the Times’ “Wealth Matters” columnist was forced to admit, “Their resources and connections can influence the decisions of institutions managed for the public good….” Well, yeah! And, it’s not “can,” but DO influence the decisions. Why mince words. The public good is not their private interest or, heaven forbid, that of their elite friends who are also enamored of the opera, arts, or wherever they are claiming social capital and a tax exemption for greenwashing their personal reputation and cleaning up the damage they do to the public in minting their money. You could count on Ross to threaten his football players when Kaepernick was kneeling, and he did. You can count on the Koch’s to do everything they can to damage the climate, if it pads their pockets, and to destroy democracy at every opportunity.

As the superrich club bemoans the lack of gratitude from hoi polloi, whether it’s donor-directed funds or their tax-exempt think tanks or their general buddy-buddy greenwashing efforts with their fellow rich elites, there’s no question that whether it’s the Whitney or some small nonprofit, when are they going to admit that they are the piper playing the tunes, and they expect all these people to dance. It’s all transactional for them, so why not stop pretending it has anything to do with benefiting the public.

Let the protests continue!

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