Whi­taker led group that may have vi­o­lated tax-ex­empt sta­tus

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — 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 Char­ity Watch, 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.

Boro­choff sug­gested that Whi­taker's board of di­rec­tors at FACT didn't ap­pear to be in­de­pen­dent enough to ap­ply the brakes on his cam­paign par­ti­san­ship. Whi­taker ap­peared to ex­ert tight con­trol over a three-per­son board of di­rec­tors that in­cluded just one un­salaried mem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the group's IRS fil­ings in 2015-16.

Whi­taker's foun­da­tion was ini­tially formed and then pri­mar­ily sup­ported with funds from an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion called Donor's Trust. That group is a non­profit built to give con­ser­va­tive and lib­er­tar­ian phi­lan­thropists "any level of pri­vacy they want," ac­cord­ing to its mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als.

A FACT spokesman de­clined to pro­vide any de­tails on donors or any on-there­cord re­sponse to other ques­tions. There was no im­me­di­ate re­ply to a re­quest for com­ment from Whi­taker made through the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Though 501c3 groups can legally with­hold the iden­tity of their con­trib­u­tors and gen­er­ally do so, there may be a dis­tinct irony when a group ded­i­cated to trans­parency keeps its fund­ing sources in the shad­ows.

In 2014, FACT's only source of funds was Donor's Trust, ac­cord­ing to IRS fil­ings. In 2015, funds from Donor's Trust ac­counted for all but $191 of FACT's $500,191 in rev­enue. In 2016, Donor's Trust pro­vided $800,000 of FACT's rev­enues of $1,350,265.

It is clear from IRS fil­ings that FACT has paid out­side Repub­li­can firms to per­form some of its work. One such firm is Amer­ica Ris­ing LLC, which was given $144,000 for re­search in 2015.

Amer­ica Ris­ing LLC formed in Delaware in 2002 and was first reg­is­tered to do busi­ness in Vir­ginia in 2016, but its regis­tra­tion was can­celed in May 2018 for fail­ing to pay its an­nual regis­tra­tion fee, ac­cord­ing to Katha Tre­anor, a spokes­woman for the State Cor­po­ra­tion Com­mis­sion. Amer­ica Ris­ing LLC did not re­spond to queries from The As­so­ci­ated Press.

An­drew Harnik/AP

Group: 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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.