Saturday, December 13, 2008

People Turn to Religion as Economy Worsens

Today's New York Times (Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches) reports that since September, evangelical pastors nationwide say they have seen such a burst of new interest in church-going that they find themselves contending with powerful conflicting emotions — deep empathy and quiet excitement — as they re-encounter an old piece of religious lore:

Bad times are good for evangelical churches.

“It’s a wonderful time, a great evangelistic opportunity for us,” says the Rev. A. R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York’s largest evangelical congregation, where regulars are arriving earlier to get a seat. “When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors.”

Seizing the opportunity, congregations large and small around the nation are presenting programs of practical advice for people in fiscal straits — from a homegrown series on “Financial Peace” at a Midtown Manhattan church called the Journey, to the “Good Sense” program developed at the 20,000-member Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., and now offered at churches all over the country.

Many ministers have for the moment abandoned standard sermons on marriage and the Beatitudes to preach instead about the theological meaning of the downturn.

But evangelicals are not the only ones enjoying this increased attendance at church services.  Some large Roman Catholic parishes and mainline Protestant churches around the nation are also experiencing attendance increases -- although these increases are not as striking as those reported by congregations describing themselves as evangelical, a term generally applied to churches that stress the literal authority of Scripture and the importance of personal conversion, or being “born again.”


December 13, 2008 in Church and State, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

California Nonprofit Spends Zero on Charitable Purpose in Two Out of Four Years of Operation

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported that a nonprofit organization founded by California’s largest union local reported spending nothing on its charitable purpose –- to develop housing for low-income workers –- during at least two of the four years it has been operating. 

According to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the charity, launched by a Los Angeles chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), had total expenses of about $165,000 for 2005 and 2006.  All of the money went to consulting fees, insurance costs and other overhead; nothing went to the organization's core program.

Charity watchdogs say that nonprofits should never have zero program expenses in two successive years and that well-performing charities typically direct at least 70% of their annual spending to their charitable purpose.

According to Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator, an online rating service, “Of the 5,000-plus charities we’ve looked at, I don’t think we’ve ever seen one that didn’t spend anything on its charitable programs.”

The Los Angeles Times report (L.A. Nonprofit Spent Zero on Charity Work in Two Years) details other alleged missteps by the nonprofit organization.  The news article present a sad commentary on the missteps -- make that misdeeds -- of some nonprofit organizations. 


December 13, 2008 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Independent Sector, Nonprofits Ask Congress for Pension Plan Funding Relief

Independent Sector and seventy-seven nonprofit organizations have submitted a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives urging Congress to provide transition relief to charities and foundations that offer defined-benefit pension plans to their employees  This request is part of the fallout from two developments: the The Pension Protection Act of 2006, which significantly increased the funding obligations for pension plans; and the recent market decline.  According to the letter, "[t]he abrupt market decline has turned those pension funding obligations into a severe problem never anticipated when the act was drafted."

"Without some immediate help, the pension obligations will force our organizations to divert millions of dollars away from programs at the time they are needed most. We are therefore urging Congress to provide relief to nonprofit organizations and other sponsors of defined benefit pension plans by allowing sufficient time to transition to the Pension Protection Act’s 100% funded target, by allowing flexibility in choosing funding election methods, and by permitting smoothing of the unexpected losses."


December 11, 2008 in Federal – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Boston to Consider Expanding PILOT Program

Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino has announced a new task force that will investigate ways of increasing payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) from tax-exempt nongovernmental institutions in the city, the Boston Globe reports. Combined, tax-exempt institutions give the city $32.4 million annually in PILOTS.  Taxing these institutions' properties would generate between $350 and $400 million each year, city officials estimate.

One goal of the mayor's initiative is to standardize contributions across institutions. Currently, many pay widely differing amounts. "For example, Boston University contributes $4.6 million each year, the highest of any institution, while Harvard University - which owns twice as much land in Boston - pays $1.9 million. Northeastern University contributes only $30,600. In the medical sector, Massachusetts General Hospital pays nearly $2 million, while Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center gives $125,000 and Boston Medical Center pays $140,000."



December 11, 2008 in State – Executive | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Princeton settles Robinson lawsuit: University pays $40 mil in legal fees, $50 mil for new family-run foundation, and retains control of balance

Princeton announced today that it has settled the Robertson lawsuit, which was filed in July 2002 by members of the Robertson family.  The Robertson Foundation commenced with a gift of $35 million in 1961 from Marie Robertson (wife of Charles Robertson, Princeton class of 1926).  In June 2007 it was valued at over $900 million.

Here are key terms:

(1) the Robertson Foundation's trustees will act to dissolve the foundation under the terms of its certificate of incorporation, transferring its assets of the foundation to the University as a restricted fund with the same purposes that are specified in the certificate.

(2) In the next three years, Princeton will pay $40 million to the Bradbury Fund, the charitable foundation that the Robertsons used to pay their legal bills.

(3) Princeton will pay $50 million to "a new charitable foundation designated by the Robertson family that will support the preparation of students for government service."  This will be paid out over the course of seven years (years four through ten of the agreement). Princeton's announcement does not specify whether that new foundation can support students in other institutions, or whether it is restricted to Wilson School students.

The parties are filing papers today with the New Jersey Superior Court asking for the settlement to be approved.


December 10, 2008 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tax-exempt status denied for televangelist's jet

The chief tax appraiser for Tarrant County, Texas, has ruled that prominent televangelist Kenneth Copeland must disclose his ministries' salaries or pay taxes on a new private jet, reports a Texas/Ft. Worth news state. "Copeland's salary is also the subject of a United States Senate Finance Committee investigation. He is one of six televangelists that have been asked by Sen. Charles Grassley to supply salary information. Four of the six are cooperating with Grassley's investigation. Thus far, Copeland has refused. He said his salary is constitutionally protected from disclosure."


December 9, 2008 in State – Executive | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Balancing State and Local Budgets on the Backs of Charities

In Pennsylvania, as in many states, balancing state and local budgets is of paramount importance.  Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania has proposed, as one solution to the budget conundrum, redefining the term "charity" so that health care organizations ans similar profitable charitable nonprofits are not defined as "charitable" under state law.  Here is an excerpt from the December 9, 2008, issue of the Times-Tribune of Scranton Pennsylvania:

Scranton could benefit if lawmakers seriously consider legislation by state Rep. Robert Freeman, D-136, to reap revenue from tax-exempt properties, which account for 25 percent of properties in Scranton.

As a potential remedy for municipal fiscal woes, both the League of Cities and Mr. Rendell want to tackle the issue of tax-exempt properties in cities and boroughs.

But they would go about it different ways.

Generally speaking, anywhere from 25 percent to one-third of the market value of properties in these long-established communities is exempt from taxes, depending upon the mix of colleges and universities, churches, health care facilities and courthouse complexes.

The league is pushing for legislation to dedicate state liquor tax revenues to compensate municipalities that have high levels — 15 percent or more — of tax-exempt property.

. . . .

[Gov. Ed Rendell] has urged passage of legislation to redefine what a charitable institution is, so municipalities could obtain some revenue from properties considered tax-exempt.

The governor points out churches are truly charities, but he questioned whether nonprofit health care organizations with financial surpluses fit that definition.

“That (change) would allow cities to get payments in lieu of taxes at a reasonable rate,” Mr. Rendell said.

For the entire story, see "Recession Spurs Revenue-Raising Creativity" in the December 9, 2008, issue of the Times-Tribune.


December 9, 2008 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 8, 2008

University Endowments Down - A Lot

In University-dense New England, the drop in endowment funds has everyone worried. The Boston Globe reports on the drops in the endowments, with Harvard's endowment already down almost 22% and projected to fall by 30% for its fiscal year ending next June. Harvard will still have a huge endowment (currently $28.9 BILLION), but the university has said that it will consider both the "scale and the pace" of planned expansions. Other schools are cutting budgets and imposing hiring freezes. All the schools are worried about their students. Schools expect more requests for financial aid, and schools worry that some students will look for less expensive schools. The article reports on specific endowments for some of the New England schools.


December 8, 2008 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Museum Censured for Selling Art to Pay Operating Expenses

The L.A. Times reports that the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued a "stinging rebuke" this morning, criticizing the decision by the National Academy Museum in New York to sell two paintings to pay operating expenses. Lee Rosenbaum initially reported the story in her blog, Culture Grrl. She reports that the Museum is considering the sale of two other paintings as well. Lee Rosenbaum wonders whether the NY Attorney General will investigate. The Museum's lawyer concluded that notification of the AG was not necessary under the circumstances, but one wonders about any restrictions imposed on the original gift of the property. The Museum received the two Hudson River School paintings as part of a 92-painting bequest from James A. Suydam in 1865. As Culture Grrl points out, photos of the paintings are still posted on the Museum's website (here and here).

The statement issued by the AAMD censures the Museum, noting the "fundamental professional principle" that a museum can sell (deaccession) works of art only to buy other works for its collection. Proceeds should not be used for other needs of a museum, which appears to be the case with the sale of the two paintings by the National Academy Museum. The Museum voluntarily withdrew membership in AAMD last week and says that it should not be bound by the AAMD guidelines. The AAMD statement calls for its members to cease dealing with the Museum, to make no loans of art and to participate in no collaborative projects with the museum.

Sadly, this story probably reflects one more victim of the current economic woes and it may not be the last deaccessioning problem to surface. The Museum had been running at a deficit of $800,000 in a $3,000,000 budget. The Museum has a $10 million endowment, but the endowment is restricted and cannot be used for operating expenses.


December 8, 2008 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) ad in NYT condemning "violence and intimidation" against Mormons

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (a nonprofit public interest law firm "protecting the free expression of all religious traditions") sponsored a full-page ad in the New York Times deploring "The violence and intimidation being directed against the LDS [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] or 'Mormon' church, and other religious organizations-and even against individual believers-simply because they supported Proposition 8," California's ballot initiative that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. It passed with 52.3% of the vote. The alleged intimidation includes a number of incidents reported in the UK's The Independent (see "Mormons Under Seige").  The ad was published in the name of "No Mob Veto," a Becket Fund project.  Signatories include Professors Douglas Laycock (University of Michigan Law School), and a dozen or so religious leaders, lawyers, civil rights activists, and theologians.

The LDS contributed only relatively small sums in support of "Prop 8."  (The State of California's Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating an allegation that the LSD church did not disclose the value of non-monetary campaign activities such as phone banking.)  Individuals members of the LDS church contributed up to 40 percent of the more than $40 million raised to support Prop 8.  Also, The New York Times reported that "the Mormon leadership in Salt Lake City issued a four-paragraph decree to be read to congregations, saying 'the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan,' and urging members to become involved with the cause." It has been estimated "that Mormons made up 80 percent to 90 percent of the early volunteers who walked door-to-door in election precincts."

A few editorials (including a posting by Mario Ruiz on The Huffington Post) have called for the revocation of the LDS Church's tax-exempt status, on grounds that it violated a condition of tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code - that no substantial part of its activities may consist of attempting to influence legislation.


December 8, 2008 in Church and State | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Call for Papers - Conference on Philanthropy Law

Philanthropy Law in the 21st Century - October 23, 2009

The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel's Legal Education Committee is organizing the third in a series of academic symposia financially supported by the ACTEC Foundation. The next symposium, Philanthropy Law in the 21st Century, will be held at Chicago Kent Law School on October 23, 2009.

The symposium will be organized around three panels, and the preliminary plan is to have one panel on donor issues, one on management issues, and one on tax issues. Because the three topics overlap somewhat, the Legal Education Committee will organize papers into panels after it reviews the proposals.

If you would like to be considered for one of the panels, please submit an abstract of your paper to Anne-Marie Rhodes by email (her address is by February 2, 2009. The Committee will notify individuals chosen to participate in the symposium by email by March 1, 2009. If you are chosen to present a paper, you will be asked to submit a draft by September 1, 2009. Drafts will be circulated to the panelists prior to the date of the symposium and abstracts will be provided to all symposium attendees. You will also be asked to agree to publish your final paper in a special symposium edition of the Chicago-Kent Law Review.

All symposium speakers will be reimbursed for their travel expenses (airfare and the cost of ground transportation and hotel) courtesy of an ACTEC Foundation grant. Speakers will also be invited to a Speakers' Dinner on Thursday night, and breakfast and lunch will be provided to both speakers and attendees on Friday.


December 8, 2008 in Paper Presentations and Seminars | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)