Posts tagged ‘nonprofit sector’

January 11, 2019

Was the Trump Foundation the Only Funder on Santa’s Naughty List?

As you struggled to raise more money at the close of 2018 while carving out holiday time with loved ones, you might have missed an important news story.

On Dec. 18, news reports announced that the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Trump Foundation had reached an agreement to dissolve the Foundation. Under the terms of the deal, the NY Attorney General will distribute the Foundation’s remaining assets to charities.

Donald Trump

However, the closing of the Trump Foundation does not end the matter. Barbara Underwood, the NY Attorney General, says the state still seeks $2.8 million in restitution, plus additional penalties.

Furthermore, the Attorney General is asking the court to bar Donald Trump from serving with nonprofit organizations in New York for 10 years. The state’s lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

The State of New York “lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in ‘persistently illegal conduct’ and that Trump basically used the Foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign,” according to a report in Vox.

This news item is inherently important. It involves a charitable foundation with significant assets that appears to have acted far less than charitably. It also involves the President of the United States. However, the significance of this story does not end there.

If the NY Attorney General is correct about the alleged misdeeds of the Trump Foundation, dissolution of the Foundation and a temporary prohibition of Trump family members from serving with NY charities for a limited time seem like an insignificant punishment. Unless serious penalties are levied against Donald Trump and his family members who were involved, the Trumps alleged criminal behavior will go unpunished. Furthermore, they will remain free to create and/or serve with nonprofit organizations outside of the State of New York. Other than a bit of bad press, the Trumps will pay little for their behavior.

The problem does not end there. Failure to hold the Trumps personally liable not only fails to punish the Trump family, it sends a signal to anyone interested in using a charitable foundation for personal benefit. That signal is that there is little downside for misbehavior. In other words, there will be little to no deterrent effect unless severe penalties are imposed by the court, assuming the allegations are proven true.

The other thing we need to understand about the Trump Foundation story is that it is not an isolated situation. A decade into my fundraising career, the nonprofit sector was rocked by the scandal surrounding the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Operating from 1989 to 1995, the Foundation raised over $500 million in an elaborate Ponzi Scheme that defrauded well known charities and experienced philanthropists out of millions.

That wasn’t the first funder scandal, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Let’s face it. The Trump Foundation is not the only funder on Santa’s naughty list.

As another report in Vox observed, “There are some 86,000 foundations in the United States, with total assets of around $890 billion. And the vast majority of them never face this kind of scrutiny.”

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