Monday, March 17, 2008

University of Miami's Frances Hill Comments on Improper Use of Charity By California Legislature

University of Miami Law School's Professor Frances Hill is quoted in the March 16, 2008 Los Angeles Times about the propriety of the California State Legislature's alleged improper benefits to charity donors.  According to the story, "The California Senate offers special interests that give money to its charity the opportunity to travel with state lawmakers to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Jerusalem, Tokyo and other foreign locales."  The story explains how the Senate uses its staff to assist in travel arrangements and that the donors are mostly corporate interests with business  before the Legislature.  After quoting a government ethics expert who says that this arrangement is "inappropriate," the article then quotes Professor Hill as one of several experts on nonprofit law as saying:

Frances R. Hill, a University of Miami law professor and expert on nonprofits, said the federal tax code forbids tax-exempt charities from bestowing "excess" benefits exclusively on board members. Such organizations are also bound by the "private inurement" doctrine that aims to ensure that a nonprofit's benefits are public, not private.

Hill said the structure of the Senate's international relations foundation essentially allows board members -- who get their position by donating -- to purchase access to California legislators on foreign trips. Average Californians and officials in industries that have not donated to the foundation have not been granted such access, Hill noted.

"You just can't sell a board membership like this," she said.

For the entire story, see "Senate travel perks for sale? Contributors to lawmakers' charity, including lobbyists, are invited to go overseas with legislators" in the March 16, 2008, Los Angeles Times.


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