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9th Circuit: Conservative Nonprofits Must Turn Over Donor List to Attorney General

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has rejected the argument of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity and the Thomas More Law Society that their First Amendment rights were violated by a California law requiring them to turn over their list of donors to the California attorney general, Election Law Blog's Rick Hasen reports. The groups said they should be exempted from the law because disclosure of their donors could cause them to be harassed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the injunction that had been put in place by the district court. The Attorney General is not disclosing the information to the public.

Court Rules California Charities Must Disclose Donors

California charities must disclose the names of their major contributors, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last week. The Los Angeles Times' Maura Dolan reports that the Center for Competitive Politics lost the argument that its First Amendment right to the freedom of association is violated by the reporting requirement.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris ordered nonprofits to disclose donors who contributed more than $5,000 in a single year. The disclosures, however, were only to the attorney general's office, not to the public too.

In-house Counsel Argue Against Whistleblowing to AG

The Association of Corporate Counsel is arguing in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that nonprofit in-house lawyers should not be allowed to blow the whistle to the state attorney general about the misuse of funds, Corporate Counsel's Sue Reisinger reports. The Supreme Court, in a case titled Redacted v. Redacted, is going to decide if in-house counsel may disclose information about wrongly diverted funds to the attorney general's office, "'“as parens patriae for the public to whom the charity and its counsel owe a fiduciary duty.”'

The ACC argues that if clients will be less candid with their lawyers if they are afraid their lawyers will turn them in to law enforcement.

Can Nonprofit Lawyers Disclose Diversion of Charitable Assets? PA Supreme Court Takes Up Issue

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has taken up a sealed case to consider whether a lawyer for a nonprofit corporation can break her duty of confidentiality and disclose her concerns to the Attorney General's Office that charitable assets are being unlawfully diverted, The Legal Intelligencer's Lizzy McLellan reports. The anonymous petitioner said the public charity had a fiduciary duty to the public and the charity's lawyer was permitted to disclose the diversion of public charitable resources into private pockets to the attorney general.

Nonprofit practitioner Penina K. Lieber told The Legal that "'attorney-client privilege is not destroyed by the fact that you have a tax-exempt status,'" and the organization itself should approach the attorney general.

New IRS Rules for Nonprofit Hospitals

The IRS has recently released rules to address aggressive debt collection from poor patients by nonprofit hospitals, ProPublica reports. The rules, required by the Affordable Care Act, will require nonprofit hospitals to "post their financial assistance policies on their websites and offer a written, 'plain language summary' of them to patients when they're in the hospital. If patients don't apply for assistance or pay their bills, then the hospitals are required to send at least one more summary of the policy, along with mentioning it on billing statements. And if hospitals plan to sue patients over unpaid bills, they must attempt to verbally tell the patients about their policies, as well as send notices that they are planning to sue and that the patients may qualify for financial assistance."

IRS Can't Keep Up With Tax-Exempt Charities

The Washington Post's Josh Hicks reports that "an independent review released last month faulted the IRS for scant oversight of charities, saying the agency examined the groups less frequently while its budget and workforce steadily shrank in recent years." The Government Accountability Office found that the IRS audited 0.7 percent of charities in 2013, down from 0.81 percent in 2011. The GAO also said the the IRS has not developed a system to measure the outcome of its scant oversight.

Red Cross Reverses Stance on Superstorm Sandy 'Trade Secrets'

ProPublica reports that the Red Cross had dropped its argument that documents about how it spent $300 million in disaster-relief funds on Superstorm Sandy contain trade secrets. The Red Cross disclosed that the largest Sandy expenditures involved financial assistance, food, other relief items, programming resources and paying for the deployment of staff and volunteers: "More than half the money spent, $129.6 million, went to financial assistance, food, and other relief items. .... The next-largest expenditures were $46.1 million for 'deployment of staff and volunteers (e.g. air travel, rental vehicles, meals, lodging for volunteers)' and $30 million for 'costs of permanent program resources included in Superstorm Sandy response.'" 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sought details on how the Red Cross spent money on Superstorm Sandy relief, and ProPublica sought the correspondence through a Freedom of Information request, ProPublica previously reported. The Red Cross initially objected to the FOIA request on trade secret grounds.

NY Attorney General Backing Down on Scrutiny of Red Cross' Sandystorm Spending?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sought details on how the Red Cross spent money on Superstorm Sandy relief, ProPublica's Justin Elliott reports. There has been lack of transparency in how the charity spent $300 million raised after the storm, ProPublica reports.

Last fall, the nonprofit and the AG's office struck an agreement on the Red Cross's release of information about future disasters. But that final agreement did not address what has been going on with the Sandy money.

The correspondence was obtained through a Freedom of Information request, ProPublica said.

"Things haven't gotten that good in the middle and the top to really lift up the bottom level"

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Thu, 11/28/2013 - 12:51

While the American economy has been officially out of recession for four years, social service providers told me for a piece I did for the Stamford Advocate that the need for assistance for the least well-off has not slackened. On this day of Thanksgiving, the need for social services is a reminder to give if you have the means to do so and to be grateful for the means that you do have.


An excerpt of the story:

Robert M. Arnold, president and CEO of Greenwich-based Family Centers, which provides education, health and human services to children, adults and families in Fairfield County, said the economic recovery has been uneven, and people at the lowest rung of the economic ladder have had the lowest level of recovery.

"Things have to get really better up in the middle and the top to lift up the bottom level," Arnold said. "Things haven't gotten that good in the middle and the top to really lift up the bottom level."

Many people are working jobs on which they can barely subsist, Arnold said.

Jason T. Shaplen, chief executive officer of Stamford-based Inspirica, Inc., one of the largest providers of services to the homeless in Connecticut, said that the demand for his organization's services is at a record level. The number of people living in the street in Connecticut has increased 82 percent in the past three years and the number of homeless people in Greenwich and Stamford increased 45 percent in the past year, according to Shaplen.

Nationally, 100 million Americans live in poverty or live within 50 percent of the poverty line, Shaplen added.

Historically, homelessness was connected to people having mental health problems, substance abuse problems or lack of education, Shaplen said. While all those things still cause people to become homeless, the new driver for homelessness is people being unable to find work or make enough money from their work to meet all of their needs, especially in a housing market as expensive as lower Fairfield County's, Shaplen said.

The winter is an especially hard time for people in poverty in Fairfield County because they have the additional seasonal expenses of heating, warm winter clothing and maintaining vehicles that are not in great repair to survive winter weather, Arnold said.


Special Events Reach 'Super-Saturation' Point On Connecticut's Gold Coast

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Mon, 11/18/2013 - 16:38

I wrote a piece for The Stamford Advocate on how the gala season has exploded on the "Gold Coast" of Lower Fairfield County, Connecticut. One source told that me that 50 years ago there would only be one or two galas in the autumn and only one or two galas in the spring. Now there are two or three galas per week:

Fairfield County charities turn to galas to raise funds

Flowers flown from abroad. Live animals. Goody bags with luxurious gifts. Back in the financial world's heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, fundraising galas in Fairfield County were "hugely extravagant," says Elaine Ubiña, a photographic chronicler of the philanthropic scene with the website Fairfield County Look.

"Hedge funds ... the whole world of finance, everybody was just doing incredibly well and had less regard for the kind of money they were spending on the events," Ubiña said. "They knew there was always somebody who would underwrite" the lavishness of parties.

While the embellishments arranged for galas have been stripped down from years past, that has not meant any slackening in the number of special events put on by charities in Fairfield County and the rest of the greater New York City area.

"The competition is really fierce," said Christopher J. Riendeau, senior vice president of the Stamford Hospital Foundation.

Riendeau said that there are only five ways for nonprofits to raise funds: special events like galas, runs and golf outings; annual giving campaigns; large gifts of $25,000 or more from donors; planned giving in which nonprofits are named in donors' estate plans; and grants given by corporations and foundations.

As major gift-giving has decreased, more regional charities are undertaking special events, Riendeau said.

"The special event dollar, particularly on the corporate sponsorship side, is not infinite," Riendeau said. "It's definitely finite. I worry that we're going to get to this super-saturation point."

According to 2012 data from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fairfield County's $1.3 billion in giving ranks it 10th in the nation.

Read the full piece here.

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