Saturday, November 9, 2019
On November 7, New York Supreme Court Judge Saliann Scarpulla ordered President Trump to pay $2 million in resitution to charity for his breach of his fiduciary duties as an officer and director of the Trump Foundation. The link attached to ordered above is the Judge's actual order. Since this is written up a lot in other places, like here by David Fahrenthold who has been the best chronicler of the Foundation, I only provide resources here for digging deeper into the case.
To fully comprehend what has happened to the Trump Foundation, President Trump, and his children, you have to read more than the order. They all entered into a series of stipulations with the NY AG Letitia James. The stipulations spell out a series of significant admissions of wrongdoing made by President Trump and his three children who sat on the board. The press release issued by the NY AG does a nice job of summarizing all that has taken place. I recommend reading all three.
If interested in seeing all of the evidence held by the NY AG you can go to the NY Supreme Court and search in the case index for the index number of the case (451130/2018). That should take you here, which if it works would save you the time of searching the case index. More information can be found from CREW who did a FOIA search that yielded the Form 4720s and checks filed by the Foundation with the IRS.
I have written about the matter on The Conversation here. In that piece I try to grapple with whether there are any situations in history that place this occurrence in proper historical context. If you get a chance to look at that, and have thoughts about the choice, let me know what you think.
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Pennsylvania bears watching on hospitals and tax exemption.
Pennsylvania's Northumberland County Board of Assessment just denied a request on October 30 for property tax exemption for some hospitals UPMC acquired a few years ago. UPMC, headquartered in Pittsburgh in the old US Steel building, bought Susquehanna’s Sunbury and Lock Haven hospitals from for-profit Quorum Health in 2016.
Apparently no specific reason was sited for the denial. From the article:
“There was testimony during the hearing that indicated that some parcels, or portions of the parcels, were utilized for purposes that likely are not exempt. UPMC felt all of the parcels were exempt,” Mr. Garrigan wrote in an email.
“When questioned by the Board, UPMC gave an indication as to the approximate breakdown of the parcels by use, but there was little documentary evidence provided at that time to backup these percentages.”
UPMC has 30 days to appeal.
The healthcare giant recently entered into a 10 year agreement with Highmark for Highmark to be allowed to use the UPMC provider network. This came on the heels of the Pennsylvania AG bringing a complaint sounding in state charitable nonprofit law to force UPMC to enter into such a relationship with Highmark.
Thursday, September 26, 2019
Earlier this month the California Assembly passed legislation (AB 1181) to limit charitable contribution deductions for donated medical supplies that are conditioned on being used outside the United States, as well as strengthening the state's charitable solicitation laws in a variety of other ways. This legislation presumably grew out of several enforcement actions taking by the California Attorney General targeting such activities, one of which resulted in a $410,000 settlement. The bill is now on the governor's desk, where it joins the previously passed bill (SB 206) "to allow athletes at California's 58 NCAA schools the right to receive compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses" and a bill (AB 136) to ensure that defendants in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal are refused a deduction under state law, whether as a charitable contribution or a business expense, for any unlawful payments. Governor Gavin Newsom has until October 13th to decide whether to sign or veto each bill, along with hundreds of others currently on his desk.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Public details are a bit scarce, but according to press reports a three-year investigation by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has raised questions about a nonprofit's investment of nearly a $1 million in for-profit companies owned by the nonprofit's CEO. Praying Pelican Ministries started a for-profit coffee shop in 2013 in order to raise money, with the CEO as the sole shareholder of the business (even though the board had approved the investment subject to the nonprofit being a 49% owner). After investing nearly $800,000 in the business, the coffee shop was sold for $16,000, with the sales proceeds used to pay off the shop's creditors. During approximately the same time period, the nonprofit referred participants in its mission trip to a travel agency owned by - you guessed it - the CEO. The nonprofit also paid nearly $140,000 to the agency in purported reimbursements, but a later audit revealed that in fact the agency was obligated to repay this amount to the nonprofit.
In the wake of the investigation and the AG's allegations that they had violated their fiduciary duties in numerous ways, the CEO and four board members resigned earlier this year. Earlier this month the AG filed in court a stipulation and proposed order (agreed to by the nonprofit and its new leadership), which if accepted by the court would require the nonprofit to revise its policies and leadership. The "Petition for Order Approving Assurance of Discontinuance" is available here. At least at this point, no criminal charges have been filed.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
I previously blogged about Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's attempt to modify consent decrees governing the relationship between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Highmark (a health insurer and health care provider). I recently learned that days before the decrees were set to expire, UPMC and Highmark agreed to "give many Highmark insurance members in-network access to UPMC doctors for the next 10 years," access that was set to expire with the decrees. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette news report linked to in the previous sentence notes that the Highmark CEO credits the AG with helping broker the talks that led to the agreement, and also that the AG planned to withdraw his lawsuit against UPMC. For those interested in the details of the long-running dispute involving UPMC, Highmark, and the AG's office, this news story also has a helpful timeline.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Here are the most recent National Rifle Association (NRA) developments:
- In July, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia issued subpoenas to both the NRA and its related charitable foundation focusing on whether the organizations violated DC's nonprofit laws. The foundation is chartered in the District of Columbia. More specifically, the AG's office said: ""We are seeking documents from these two nonprofits detailing, among other things, their financial records, payments to vendors, and payments to officers and directors." Coverage: ABC News; Washington Post.
- Earlier this month, the New York Attorney General issued subpoenas to 90 current and former NRA board members. The NRA is chartered in New York. While the AG's office did not provide any details, the subpoenas come in the wake of reports regarding financial transactions with numerous board members or entities owned by them. Coverage: CNN; N.Y. Times.
- Also earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the NRA had considered purchasing a $6 million mansion for its chief executive officer, Wayne LaPierre. The NRA ultimately did not proceed with the purchase, but the details regarding the decisions related to the purchase are disputed by NRA officials and its former outside ad agency.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
The drip-drip of bad news about the National Rifle Association and the University of Maryland Medical System continues. For the NRA, the newest revelation was that 18 members of the NRA's 76-member board had direct or indirect financial transactions with the organization at some point during the past three years even though board members are not compensated for their service. Transactions with board members of tax-exempt nonprofit organizations are generally allowed if the terms, including the amounts paid, are reasonable in light of what the organization receives in return, and particularly if they are vetted through a conflict of interest policy (which policy the NRA has). Nevertheless, the number of board members involved and the amounts - ranging from tens thousands of dollars to in one case over $3 million in purchases - raises the question of whether the judgment of those board members might be affected by the transactions, particularly when it comes to evaluating the performance of the executives who control such transactions. As Mother Jones reports, however, the IRS is unlikely to try to revoke the tax-exempt status of the NRA even given these recent revelations. The more potent threat to the organization is instead the ongoing New York Attorney General investigation, as the NRA is incorporated in New York.
Meanwhile, similar governance issues continue to come to come to light at the University of Maryland Medical System, but with somewhat different results. These issues include longstanding financial relationships with a number of board members, including a former state Senator, and disregard for the two consecutive five-year terms limit on board service. Unlike the situation with the NRA, these revelations have also claimed a number of leadership casualties, most recently four top executives (including the system's primary lawyer) who resigned earlier this month. Given the ongoing federal and state investigations and legislative calls to force all current board members to step down, more leadership changes are probably likely.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has reversed course, announcing last week that he will sign bill S1500 after initially vetoing it conditionally because of constitutional and policy concerns. Assuming he follows through on his commitment, any group that is tax-exempt under either section 501(c)(4) (social welfare organizations) or section 527 (political organizations) of the Internal Revenue Code that engages in certain activities will have to publicly disclose donors who contribute $10,000 or more. The triggering activities are raising or spending $3,000 or more for the purpose of "influencing or attempting to influence the outcome of any election or the nomination, election, or defeat of any person to any State or local elective public office, or the passage or defeat of any public question, legislation, or regulation, or in providing political information on any candidate or public question, legislation, or regulation." Groups that engage in these activities will also have to report details of their relevant expenditures. The bill will become law despite opposition from the New Jersey chapters of both the ACLU and American for Prosperity.
So far it appears that state-level expansions of required public disclosures by politically active nonprofits have been limited to a handful of Democratic-controlled states, although significant ones in terms of their size (California, New Jersey, and New York). It remains to be seen whether disclosure legislation introduced in many other states becomes law (see the end of this Ballotpedia News story for a nationwide update on such legislation).
Thursday, May 16, 2019
New Jersey is the latest state to compel disclosure of significant donors in the wake of the federal government's decision to eliminate reporting to the IRS by tax-exempt organizations (other than 501(c)(3)s) of their significant donors. NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs announced a new rule earlier this week that will require both charities and social welfare organizations that have to file annual reports with the Division's Charities Registration Section to include the identities of contributors who have given $5,000 or more during the year. (Like a number of states, New Jersey apparently defines "charitable organization" broadly for state registration purposes, so as to encompass not only Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) organizations but also Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations.) According to statements accompanying the new rule, the donor information will not be subject to public disclosure. This announcement was in the wake of New Jersey and New York suing the federal government for failing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by those states relating to that earlier decision, and New Jersey joining a lawsuit brought by Montana challenging the decision.
Interestingly, however, last week New Jersey's governor vetoed a bill (S1500) that would have compelled donor disclosure by organizations engaged in independent political expenditures, among other measures. Governor Philip D. Murphy's 20-page explanation raised both constitutional concerns with the legislation as enacted and policy concerns that the bill did not go far enough in certain respects. The constitutional concerns included ones relating to the bill's application to legislative and regulatory advocacy, not just election-related expenditures. The policy concerns includes ones related to a failure to extend pay-to-play disclosures and to require certain disclosures from recipients of economic development subsidies.
In other disclosure news, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected petitions fo rehearing en banc of the earlier three-judge panel decision in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra, turning away an as applied challenge to the California Attorney General's requiring that the foundation provide a copy of its Form 990 Schedule B (which identifies significant donors) to that office. The rejection is notable because it was over a lengthy dissent by five judges, to which the three judges on the initial panel responded.
I think it can be safely predicted that in this era of "dark money" we will continue to see state level compelled disclosure developments, and litigation in response, for the foreseeable future.
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Details continue to emerge about the ongoing crisis at the National Rifle Association and government investigations are just starting to build up steam, so it is way too early to try to comprehensively identify nonprofit law lessons arising from this situation. That said, here are two early takes.
Boards Matter (Eventually). The NRA has a huge Board of Directors, with more than 70 members. While presumably its members are strong supporters of the NRA's agenda, they also have a legal role that gives them both access to information and credibility when making criticisms. While details about the NRA's recent problems emerged in a mid-April New Yorker story, they were given added visibility when they became the apparent basis for a leadership challenge by a faction of board members, including then-President Oliver North. That challenge failed, as did apparently earlier, quieter attempts by board members to rein in possibly problematic behavior, as explored in the New Yorker story. But that may not be the end, as the N.Y. Times reported yesterday that board member and former congressman Allen B. West has now publicly called for NRA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre to resign. One of the many board members may also have been the source of recently leaked internal memos that support many of the concerns now coming to light.
Success Does Not Excuse All Wrongdoing. Wayne LaPierre has been with the NRA since 1977, and been its head since 1991, during which time he has led the NRA to increasing prominence and influence. But despite that success, he now appears vulnerable. Indeed, in an apparent pattern that many who work with nonprofits will recognize, that success and long tenure may have led him to engage in the very transactions that could prove to be his undoing. For example, while far from the most significant questionable transaction financially or probably legally, his alleged spending of more than $200,000 for wardrobe purchases charged to an NRA vendor is, if true, a classic example of an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound (and possible excess benefit transaction for federal tax purposes). For the rank-and-file NRA member, paying him over a million dollars in compensation annually presumably can be justified by the organization's success; but then he should buy his own clothes (and who spends over $200,000 on clothes?).
With the continuing New York Attorney General, congressional, and possibly Internal Revenue Service interest, we will hopefully learn much more about how the crisis developed in the coming months. And of course this is on top of previous congressional interest in alleged Russian ties to the NRA in the time leading up to the 2016 election.
Following up on previous coverage in this space, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's nonprofit-related problems led to her resignation earlier this month in the wake of FBI and IRS agents raiding her homes and mayoral office. The issue that led to her downfall: alleged self-dealing, arising from the $500,000 purchase of a book she wrote by a nonprofit on the board of which she sat. Additional coverage: Baltimore Sun (which broke the original story); CNN; Washington Post.
Other Nonprofit Scandals You May Have Missed: $37 Million Class Action Settlement; "Sham" Police Charities
In a story that appeared to attract very little attention, Gospel for Asia settled a federal class action lawsuit brought against it for $37 million (!) according to a report in a Canadian news outlet. According to that report, the charity - now known as GFA World - "had been accused of diverting donations intended for India's poor to build a lavish headquarters in Texas, personal residences, and purchase for-profit businesses, including a rubber plantation and a professional soccer team." The charity also agreed to remove the wife of the charity's founder from the board of directors, and to add the lead plaintiff in the suit to the board. It is not clear whether the Canada Revenue Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, or any other government agencies are investigating. According to a report in Christianity Today, Gospel for Asia helped found the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, but was expelled from that organization in 2015 "after ECFA concluded that GFA misled donors, mismanaged resources, had an ineffective board, and violated most of the accountability group’s core standards." Gospel for Asia did not acknowledge any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, as it noted in a related press release.
In other news, states continue to pursue and shut down alleged "sham" police charities. In Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Federal Trade Commission and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt forced the Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation Inc. to shutdown after raising close to $10 million, almost all of which went to fundraising costs or the organization's executive director. The charity and the executive director did not admit to any wrongdoing, however. And in Maryland, the Baltimore Sun reports that a retired Baltimore police sergeant "has agreed to cease soliciting money for a police charity [CopStress] that the Maryland Attorney General’s Office says misled the public about its operations." The retired police officer involved contested the accusations, however, saying he was only agreeing to shut the charity down after collecting minimal donations because otherwise he faced a $30,000 fine.
Friday, March 29, 2019
Proving that issues with politicians and nonprofits are truly bipartisan (and not limited to President Trump), the dust continues to fly over various financial transactions involving Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (a Democrat), her inaugural committee, and the University of Maryland Medical System. According to media reports, the Mayor, who was then a UMMS board member, had a $500,000 deal with UMMS to purchase her self-published children's books, a deal that she now says was a "regrettable mistake" and for which she has apologized. (Washington Post; WBAL-TV) She also resigned from the UMMS Board of Directors after the deal came to light.
The possible legal troubles do not stop there, however. According to reports last week, the Mayor's inaugural committee failed to file its required IRS annual information returns (Form 990). In addition, UMMS failed to report on its returns that it gave $20,000 to that committee. UMMS is taking the position that the payment was not a grant, which it would have had to report, because it received in return 28 tickets to inaugural events. It made this argument even though in an earlier filing it had reported a contribution to support the inauguration of another public official.
As the Washington Post details, the end of the Mueller investigation is far from the end of law enforcement actions relating to President Trump. Among those investigations are several tied to nonprofit organizations, specifically the continuing litigation in New York relating to the Trump Foundation and investigations into the President's inaugural committee.
Turning first to the inaugural committee, in late February the District of Columbia Attorney General's office subpoenaed the committee for documents relating to its finances according to several media reports (CNN; NY Times; Politico; Wall Street Journal; Washington Post). This followed subpoenas on the same topic from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office and from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the South District of New York, both earlier that month. The latter subpoena identified a number of possible federal crimes under investigation, including conspiracy against the United States, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and accepting contributions from foreign nations and straw donors. The DC and NJ subpoenas are more focused on nonprofit-related matters, such as possible private benefit and whether the committee complied with laws relating to soliciting contributions.
As for the Trump Foundation litigation in New York, Courthouse News Service reports that New York Attorney General Letitia James requested judgment against the Foundation, Donald J. Trump, Donald J. Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric F. Trump for $2.8 million in restitution and $5.6 million in penalties, as well as injunctive relief. The filing, technically a Reply Memorandum of Law in Further Support of the Verified Petition, argues that the evidence provided by the Attorney General has not been challenged by the respondents or countered by any admissible evidence provided by them, and that it demonstrates breach of fiduciary duties, wasting of charitable assets, and improper use of the foundation for political purposes. Hat tip: Nonprofit Quarterly.
Friday, February 8, 2019
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced yesterday that he is seeking to modify consent decrees governing the relationship between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Highmark (a health insurer and health care provider), with the support of Highmark's leadership. According to the AG "UPMC is not fulfilling its obligation as a public charity." More specifically, in the petition his office filed he is asking the Commonwealth Court to:
- Enable open and affordable access to UPMC’s health care services and products through negotiated contracts with any health plan;
- Require last, best-offer arbitration – commonly known as “baseball arbitration” – when contract negotiations between insurers and providers fail; and
- Protect against UPMC’s unjust enrichment by prohibiting excessive and unreasonable billing practices inconsistent with its status as a non-profit charity providing healthcare to the public.
Alleged violations of UPMC's charitable obligations include "[w]ithholding access to doctors for patients in Williamsport, Pennsylvania whose employers have contracts with a competing health plan" and "[r]efusing to negotiate reasonable payment terms with self-insured employers, resulting in UPMC's unjust enrichment through excess reimbursements for the value of its services."
Thursday, February 7, 2019
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra recently announced that his office had settled a case it had brought against charity Giving Children Hope alleging that the charity had overvalued in-kind donations it had received in order to inflate the value of the contributions it received and therefore its claimed direct aid. Here is the AG's description of what the charity did:
Giving Children Hope provides international assistance in the form of food, clothing, and medical supplies. The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2016, GCH inaccurately claimed, in its public financial reporting and on its website, that 99 percent of all contributions provided direct aid. This was misleading and the result of deceptive reporting of Gift-in-Kind donations. GCH created two subsidiaries, Giving Hope International and International Clinic Aid, which purchased pharmaceuticals from a wholesaler in the Netherlands for less than $225,000. The two subsidiaries then donated the same pharmaceuticals to GCH. GCH reported the total value for these pharmaceuticals as being over $34.9 million using U.S. prices of drugs rather than the actual purchase price paid by its affiliated charity. GCH should not have reported $34.9 million in revenue and donations when the pharmaceuticals cost less than $225,000. Also since GCH failed to submit any documentation showing that the pharmaceuticals were, in fact, distributed in furtherance of Giving Children Hope’s charitable purpose, the actual value for those pharmaceuticals should have been zero.
For previous coverage of the California AG's other enforcement actions in this area, see this earlier blog post.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
I previously mentioned California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's cease and desist orders against three charities for allegedly overvaluing donated pharmaceuticals they received. Now Jim Ulvog, CPA at the Nonprofit Update blog has obtained the numerous and lengthy court filings in this case and begun reviewing them. So far he has posted some preliminary thoughts and also some details relating to discovery disputes. Apparently the three defendant charities have seriously lawyered up (ten attorneys named so far) and also hired impressive (and presumably expensive) expert witnesses. At last report (on December 4th), the case was in its sixth day of hearings out of fifteen scheduled days before an Administrative Law Judge. It will be interesting to see if it results in a public decision or instead a set of quiet settlements, with both sides claiming victory.
This year’s Pennies for Charity report includes data from the 964 fundraising campaigns conducted all or in part in 2017 by professional fundraisers in New York. The campaigns raised over $1 billion. Key findings include:
• Over $372 million (31%) of funds raised were paid to fundraisers to cover the costs of conducting the charitable campaigns. Charities received $812+ million overall.
• In 313 campaigns (32%), charities retained less than 50% of funds raised.
• In 156 campaigns (16%), fundraising expenses exceeded charitable revenue. In 2017, this loss totaled over $10 million dollars.
The New York AG's office also provides a database with detailed information for campaigns, searchable by charity or fundraiser name.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
The long-planned Single Portal for state charity registration just went live for the first two pilot states, Connecticut and Georgia. A second cohort of at least five states is expected to join them by January 2019, according to the website's FAQs. The site is operated by the Multistate Registration and Filing Portal, Inc., which is described as a section 501(c)(3) organization that is also an instrumentality of government formed by state charity officials. I assume not coincidentally, the site went live just before this year's National Association of Attorneys General/National Associate of State Charity Officials conference in Baltimore, scheduled for October 1st thru 3rd. The agenda for Monday, which is open to the public, is available here.
Friday, July 6, 2018
The news cycle may have moved on from the New York Attorney General's lengthy Petition against the Donald J. Trump Foundation and Donald, Donald Jr., Invanka, and Eric Trump, but the legal cycle continues. It is therefore worth considering what is the most important question that Petition raises - did now President Trump break any criminal laws through his Foundation?
First, a mea culpa is owed. When I first, very quickly (and in the Newark airport on my smart phone, which is not a great way to review legal documents), read the Petition and related materials, I missed the not-so-subtle hints that the AG included suggesting that the answer to this question is yes. As way of explanation but not excuse, this was in part because I did not then know that she generally lacka authority to bring criminal charges herself. But more importantly, in my quick read I missed both the occasional "willful" or "willful and knowing" language - particularly with respect to the alleged use of the Foundation to benefit his campaign - and, most damning, the copying of officials at the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section on the FEC referral letter. So I apologize for anyone I talked to in the hours after the petition became public for not catching those hints.
But of course the fact that New York AG thinks they may have been one or more violations of criminal law does not necessarily make it so, even assuming the accuracy of the facts she alleges. There has already been a debate among tax scholars regarding whether those facts justify referral for a criminal investigation by the IRS - see Phil Hackney in the NY Times (yes) and Brian Galle in Medium (maybe, but probably not). I lean more toward Brian's side of this debate, with the kicker being that all of the funds distributed by the Foundation went to charities even if those contributions actually benefitted Mr. Trump, his business interests, or his campaign (with the exception of one $25,000 political organization donation in 2013, which plausibly was an inadvertent error and the false reporting of which could not be pinned on Mr. Trump by the AG). People who have been prosecuted (successfully) for using charitable assets for their own benefit, including former Representatives Corrinne Brown, Chakah Fatah, and Steve Stockman, have usually actually spent charitable funds on personal expenses or given it to their businesses or campaigns. And criminal prosecutions for false statements on annual information returns (the Form 990, or here the Form 990-PF) have tended to focus on not reporting material support for terrorist organizations and similar matters.
As the AG's copying of the DOJ Criminal Division indicates, the alleged illegal in-kind donation by the Foundation to the Trump campaign in violation of federal election law is probably the more likely candidate for a criminal charge. But election law experts contacted by N.Y. Times reporter Kenneth Vogel could not agree on whether any federal investigators would pursue such a charge, even assuming impartial consideration by career DOJ attorneys. And as noted in that article, ignorance might be a good defense here, "willful and knowing" language notwithstanding.
Perhaps the most intriguing suggestion to date is the one by David Cay Johnston in the N.Y. Times two days ago. He suggested that either the bringing of criminal charges - state or federal - or even civil tax charges - again, state or federal - against Mr. Trump, including ones based on the NY AG's allegations, could force the public disclosure of Mr. Trump's personal income tax returns (remember those?). Given the range of government officials who could pursue some such charges, it will be interesting to see if any of them take up this suggestion.