Friday, February 15, 2008

Journalism's Contribution to Protecting the Nonprofit Sector

We previously blogged about the importance of not claiming to be tax exempt without being able to show your tax exemption letter.  Well, it seems that the subject of the prior post, H. Lamar Willis, may have failed to produce an exemption letter because none existed.  According to the February 14, 2008, Atlanta Journal Constitution, a very sharp reporter discovered that some big name companies like AirTran, Comcast and Coca-Cola contributed money to a charity that did not exist.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

The Georgia Department of Revenue this week placed liens of more than $53,000 against Atlanta City Councilman H. Lamar Willis for unpaid personal and corporate taxes.

. . .

Willis has said the foundation gave away scholarships to Atlanta public high school students.

In response to a reporter's questions last year, Willis, an attorney, did not explain why the foundation never sought tax-exempt status. Willis has declined to explain how much money he raised or how he spent it.

The Revenue Department filed liens Monday in Fulton County against the H. Lamar Willis Foundation for $42,355 and against Willis himself for $11,308. Both were for tax years 2002 through 2006.

Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham said the news articles triggered the investigation. He declined to comment on the investigation's findings.

"The number of people and private organizations that have decided under their own discretion that they are going to be tax-exempt amazes me," Graham said.

To see the entire article, go to "PROBE'S RESULT: Willis, charity face big tax bills State puts liens against Atlanta city councilman, foundation that wasn't nonprofit" in the February 14, 2008, AJC.


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