Whi­taker led group that may have vi­o­lated tax-ex­empt sta­tus

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Jeff Donn

WASH­ING­TON >> Matthew G. Whi­taker, the na­tion’s new act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, re­peat­edly chided pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton in pub­lic state­ments dur­ing 2016 while he was speak­ing for a group that is barred by its tax-ex­empt sta­tus from sup­port­ing or op­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates dur­ing a cam­paign.

Be­fore com­ing to the Jus­tice De­part­ment in 2017, Whi­taker was pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Foun­da­tion for Ac­count­abil­ity and Civic Trust, a char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion that styles it­self as non­par­ti­san gov­ern­ment watch­dog pro­mot­ing ethics and trans­parency. The tax-ex­empt group — known by its ini­tials, FACT — is sup­posed to serve the pub­lic in­ter­est un­der Sec­tion 501c3 of the U.S. tax code, with­out di­rectly or even in­di­rectly sup­port­ing or op­pos­ing spe­cific can­di­dates for of­fice.

Yet the group has en­gaged in one par­ti­san pro­nounce­ment af­ter an­other, mostly di­rected at Democrats. Dur­ing the last pres­i­den­tial race, Whi­taker ar­gued in July 2016 news­pa­per opin­ion pieces that Clin­ton should be pros­e­cuted for her han­dling of her pri­vate email server — a fa­vorite talk­ing point of Don­ald Trump. The opin­ion pieces iden­ti­fied Whi­taker as FACT’s leader.

In Septem­ber 2016, Whi­taker ar­gued that Clin­ton had acted shame­lessly by ap­point­ing her char­ity’s donors to boards of the State De­part­ment when she was sec­re­tary of state.

“I don’t think any­body in the his­tory of our coun­try that served in the ad­min­is­tra­tion has been this bold in their pri­vate fundrais­ing and their sort of giv­ing fa­vors,” he said in a ra­dio in­ter­view posted on YouTube by his group.

Daniel Boro­choff, pres­i­dent of Char­i­tyWatch, a Chicago-based group that mon­i­tors the non­profit world, said that state­ment ap­pears to vi­o­late the IRS ban on en­gage­ment for or against a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal can­di­date. “It’s highly crit­i­cal of a can­di­date, and he ought not to be do­ing that, be­cause it’s a po­lit­i­cal par­ti­san com­ment,” he said.

Whi­taker, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney in Iowa, left FACT in Oc­to­ber 2017 to be­come At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions’ chief of staff. He was named this week by Pres­i­dent Trump to take over at least tem­po­rar­ily for Ses­sions, who re­signed at Trump’s re­quest.

FACT was founded in 2015, tax fil­ings show. Whi­taker drew a siz­able por­tion of its bud­get as his salary as pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor — in 2016 he earned more than twice what lead­ers of sim­i­lar groups were paid on av­er­age that year, ac­cord­ing to data from an­other watch­dog group, Char­ity Nav­i­ga­tor.

In 2015 and 2016, Whi­taker earned a to­tal of $654,000 from FACT — 30 per­cent of its en­tire spend­ing of $2.2 mil­lion over that two-year span. His 2016 salary was $402,000; the av­er­age CEO or ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at 380 ad­vo­cacy or ed­u­ca­tion char­i­ties in that year made a salary of $173,099, ac­cord­ing to Matthew J. Vi­ola, a vice pres­i­dent at Char­ity Nav­i­ga­tor.

AN­DREW HARNIK - THE AP

Pro­test­ers gather in front of the White House in Wash­ing­ton, Thurs­day as part of a na­tion­wide “Pro­tect Mueller” cam­paign de­mand­ing that Act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew Whi­taker re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing the on­go­ing spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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