Closing Range

Feeling a Chill

Way too many “nonprofits” are political, absolutely not charitable

By Dave Skinner

I’ve previously expressed my belief that public life in America is dangerously fake. Our politics are fake, the issues we gripe about are fake, even the news reporting on all of this is fake. Every public “discussion” we have is dominated by hired guns paid to push a narrative, all in the holy name of “free speech.” No, it’s not “free,” but bought and paid for.

By whom, you might ask? Good question – one you’re stuck asking in vain for some time longer. On July 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, case 19-251. If you’re a real sucker for punishment (I must be), the U.S. Supreme Court website (www.supremecourt.gov) has a stack of filings for you to “enjoy.”

This case has dragged for years. The Supremes shot down California’s nonprofit funding disclosure regulation, implemented on “fraud” grounds. California’s regulation (imposed in 2001, but only lightly enforced until then-Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office turned up the heat in 2012) required “charitable” IRS 501c3 entities raising money in California to report all donors “who give over $5,000.” Now, the IRS already requires such reports, on the “Schedule B” of an IRS nonprofit Form 990, filed annually by all 501c3 organizations. 

But to protect charitable donors from being identified and then buried under unsolicited requests for donations (ever noticed how cutting a check to a political organization lands you in a public database and guarantees a full mailbox of unsolicited garbage?), the “names and addresses of contributors” listed on Schedule B is for IRS eyes only, “not for public inspection.” California didn’t publicize their copies either. Further, IRS instructs nonprofits filing with states “not to include its Schedule B” unless required because the state might “inadvertently make the schedule available for public inspection.”

I can see where leaks would be bad news for bona-fide charities. But the sick fact is, way too many “nonprofits” are political, absolutely not charitable. The lead plaintiff here, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, is widely known, political – and conservative. AG Harris was, and is, known for being political and, um, “progressive.” So, was there something political going on when California “ramped up” enforcement? Of course, even if nobody will admit it.

I should point out the Supreme Court majority noted the “enormous amount of sensitive information collected through Schedule Bs does not form an integral part of California’s fraud detection efforts.”

Further, every “amicus” filing I read (not all, but enough) on the Supreme Court’s case docket were submitted by entities that either are political, or vendors to these political “nonprofits” – in other words, those making a living off “charitable” dark money.

All of them pretty much cried a similar whine to that of the Pacific Legal Foundation (they’re conservative and ordinarily, I like their work): “THE NINTH CIRCUIT OPINION WILL HAVE A CHILLING EFFECT ON NONPROFIT DONATIONS NATIONWIDE.”

Here’s something chilling: In 2017, another publication had me writing about the political fight over the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah. Turns out one pro-monument “nonprofit” involved, the Conservation Lands Foundation, had filed its 990 with California, which “inadvertently” posted the full-disclosure copy of CLF’s 2013’s Schedule B. 

Wow, there was an “enormous amount of sensitive information” for this humble peasant to enjoy: Of $4.7 million in grants income (which paid for a lot of staff, lobbying and advertising), $3.92 million came from just seven checks. The biggest ($1.510 million) came from Swiss billionaire Hans Wyss, with another $382,000 from his American-born daughter. $1.5 million came from Tiffany and Company ($500K) and its retired CEO ($1 million).

If this “nonprofit” was a political party, or candidate, you’d want to know everything about these big, fat donors (and their motives) before casting your vote, wouldn’t you? And you deserve that. But under federal law, now reinforced by our Supreme Court, peasants like me and you might still be able to see how much cash is being dumped, and how much average taxpayers are subsidizing this sleaze thanks to “charitable” tax deductions (try at least 35 percent), but we’re not allowed to know who. Feeling a chill?