Whitaker led group that may have violated tax-exempt status
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.
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.