Give It Back? Never!

In the future, should charities apply a stricter standard, like that applied to Steve Wynn’s donations?

By Dave Skinner

It seems the Me Too movement hasn’t quite petered out yet. On the left, the Washington Post reported that it had obtained an internal investigative memo regarding alleged sexual harassment by Wayne Pacelle, who for years has fronted the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), an anti-hunting, animal-rights charity with $112 million in revenue last year.

If the investigation begun by HSUS’s board of directors proves out, Pacelle, who is married to a television journalist, might lose his $410,000-a-year job.

On the right, there’s casino gazillionaire baron Steve Wynn, outed by the Wall Street Journal. Like fellow Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson, Wynn has recently thrown down serious cash on the Republican side and was the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman.

Calls for Republicans to give back their dirty Wynn dough began minutes after the Journal’s story hit the wires. Some did, a small sacrifice given strict federal limits on individual direct contributions, $5,400 a year. As for GOP committees, which raked down at least $533,000 from Wynn in 2016, according to Fortune, the Republican Governors Association immediately returned $100,000 from Wynn, while the RNC announced it may give the cash ($166,000 in 2016) back after Wynn gets “due process.”

Fair enough, but Wynn already settled for $7.5 million regarding a 2005 incident, subject to a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about out-of-court payoffs in exchange for silence lately, for good reason.

But the outrage over Wynn reminded me of about another big national political “player,” one with a Montana connection, who just might be due for a little “Me Too” himself.

The short version is, our guy hired a woman to work at his foundation, a job which apparently developed “benefits.” Yep, both are single, he’s rich, but in 2011, he got much too frisky with her at a New Jersey hotel, which led to a May 2013 “settlement agreement” including an NDA.

But matters aren’t really “settled” any more, and if you want the latest long version, complete with corroborating links, go here, to the Daily Caller. Fair warning, it is tawdry and sad. Plus, full disclosure: I know the reporter but we hadn’t corresponded since last fall.

Who’s our guy? Billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, about whom I’ve written before. According to Inside Philanthropy, “Wyss and his family are also major donors for progressive policy and advocacy work in the U.S. Wyss sits on the board of the Center for American Progress, [CAP] where he’s a key donor […] a huge and influential funder.”

How key? Remember John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s hapless Javits Center stand-in on election night? Well, in between Clintons, Podesta founded and ran CAP, to which the Washington Examiner reports Wyss gave at least $4.1 million during Podesta’s tenure. Podesta himself was paid $87,000 for “consulting” by the HJW Foundation, bankrolled by Wyss and now defunct.

Further, and just a hair ironically, Mr. Wyss gave $5 million to the Clinton Foundation in 2014, for the pro-women’s rights “No Ceilings” project.

That’s pretty key … and what makes this even more interesting is the fact that Mr. Wyss is a Swiss citizen, a resident alien who can’t legally make political contributions. But he can contribute all he wants to “charities” and get a tax break — so he does. Some examples, with amounts for 2015 and (2014).

In Montana:

University of Montana Foundation; $168,742

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers; $52,800;

Greater Yellowstone Coalition; ($127,800)

National organizations:

The Nature Conservancy; $9.237 million ($44.457 million)

Western Rivers Conservancy; $1 million ($6.1 million)

Trout Unlimited; $250,000, ($1 million)

New Venture Fund; $4 million, ($6.352 million)

There’s millions more, but I need to fit my space. Here we have slimy politicians being shamed into giving back money from nasty people, which is a good thing. What about nice, wholesome, idealistic charities who learn their best donors aren’t very nice?

Yes, most of the money noted above has been spent, probably spent just fine. But in the future, should charities apply a stricter standard, like that applied to Steve Wynn’s donations, where a “settlement” for silence defines a line not crossed, especially for “good causes?”

We’ll see.