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Idaho Freedom Foundation’s charitable status scrutinized

In the ornate public gallery of the Idaho House of Representatives, lobbyist Erik Makrush of the Idaho Freedom Foundation leaned over to a reporter sitting next to him and whispered, “If you have any questions, you can ask me.” The House was debating one of 11 bills that would trim the powers of urban renewal agencies in the state, a hot political issue in Idaho’s 2011 legislative session. Makrush said he’d written all of them. A year later, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman persuaded a House committee chairwoman to pull a bill he opposed just as debate was about to start on the floor. Both episodes illustrate the raw political power of a nonprofit charity that some believe is abusing its lucrative tax-free status.

Although charitable organizations are allowed to do some lobbying without risking their tax benefits, the Idaho Freedom Foundation actively pushes and opposes legislation on dozens of issues every session in ways that more closely resemble a full-on lobbying group. “If Wayne Hoffman can call a committee chairman and have a bill pulled, that’s pretty remarkable clout,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

At issue is whether taxpayers should be subsidizing its activities. As a charity organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), contributions to the Idaho Freedom Foundation are tax deductible. Contributions to lobbying groups organized under section 501(c)(4), such as the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association, are not.

In its scant five years in existence, the IFF has become one of the most active and influential groups in Idaho’s Statehouse. “We have good relationships,” Hoffman said of his group’s activities. “So they (lawmakers) take our calls, they listen to us, they read our emails.” “They’re pretty darn active,” said Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise. “They’re visible in every committee room I serve on.” Hoffman maintains it’s really not a lobbying group and that it does only a small amount of lobbying. He reported spending just $13,000 on lobbying in 2012, out of $447,108 in total expenses. In 2011, he reported just $10,290 spent on lobbying; in 2010 and 2009, he reported that the group spent zero to influence legislation.

“We’re an education organization,” said Hoffman, who was paid $99,645 by the group in 2012. “Our biggest focus is the education of policymakers.”

However, experts say IFF likely is underreporting its lobbying under federal tax laws, which potentially could endanger its tax-free status. “I think there’s a serious yellow flag here,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a nationally known expert on nonprofit tax law and a law professor at the University of Notre Dame; you can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

First ‘Idaho Gives’ day brings in more than $578K for nonprofits

The take from the first “Idaho Gives” day: More than $578,000 in donations to 500-plus Idaho non-profits, with nearly 6,200 people across the state making donations. “I really felt that if we got a couple hundred thousand dollars I would have thought we were pretty successful,” Lynn Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, told the Associated Press. “So to almost reach $600,000 is amazing.”

The Idaho Humane Society was the biggest beneficiary, with $13,123; both the Idaho Foodbank and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest also received more than $13,000. Smaller nonprofits also got into the act, with seven small groups bringing in more than $3,000. Click below for a full report from the AP.

 

Idaho nonprofits gear up for first statewide ‘Idaho Gives’ day on Thurs.

Hundreds of Idaho nonprofits are gearing up for the first “Idaho Gives” day on Thursday, a statewide fundraising blitz for charity spearheaded by the Idaho Nonprofit Center and sponsored by St. Luke’s Idaho Health System and Idaho Central Credit Union. The effort is modeled after giving days in other states, and centers around the idahogives.org website, where donors all day will be able to select from among more than 500 causes as they make their donations.

The event also includes an array of activities around the state, including open houses, community celebrations, block parties and more; there’s a full listing here. Lynn Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, said, “Our goal really is to make this a very fun and interactive day.” An awards pool will match donors’ contributions and the charities that draw the most donors will be able to win “bonus grants” by size category.

Boise events will include a nonprofit showcase at the Sesquicentennial Shop, a downtown block party at 4thand Grove streets, a celebration in the Grove, and a flash mob in front of the Egyptian Theater, cat adoption specials, children’s activities and more.

The Turkey and the Chicken

Posted by Jeanie November 2008.

When my sons were 8 and 9, they were in Boy Scouts and we had the annual bake sale/raffle, Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I remember this day very well. I had $6.00 to my name and knew I couldn't possibly afford a turkey and all the trimmings. It was going to be a pretty grim Thanksgiving. I was eyeballing chickens and wondering how fooled the boys would be.

There was a family at the bake sale that evening that I had kind of put on a shelf in the back of my mind – affluent, intelligent, married (I was the only divorcee in the room of 20 families), and beautiful with equally beautiful twin boys, age 9. I wasn't in their realm.

The scouts were supposed to make their own cake. Home made by the boys. There would be a prize for the best cake – a 20 pound fresh turkey, and all the trimmings including a Pumpkin Pie.

My mind slithered back to the soap box derby, where the boys are supposed to make a screaming racing car out of a block of wood, *by*themselves* At the derby, the twins showed up with a cherry-red, cherried-out, speed demon race car that won hands down! My son showed up with a hand carved by him (with a little inadequate help from me), lemon colored (for a reason) obviously home-made car that wouldn't even roll an inch without help.

So here we are at the bake sale/raffle, the rich twins sporting an absolutely beautiful beehive cake with yellow and white striped icing, and little furry bees on toothpicks “hovering” over the beehive which looked to be done by some elite French chef. And our cake, Mr. Happy Face, which was bumpy and wavy, black frosting smeared into a half-assed circle with a crooked little smile and two globs for eyes – the saddest cake I have ever seen.

I grumbled to myself. I had decided I was going to buy the cake back for $2.00, leaving me $4.00. I could still get that damned chicken.

It was getting darned close to disaster time in my family as our misshapen cake, made totally by my son, was sitting forlorn and lonely as all the other cakes were being raffled off – it was down to the beehive cake or the happy face cake.

Bee Family bought my cake AND theirs!  They outbid me!!!

I felt a strange twisting in my gut – I was bitter and angry and jealous and peeved and crabby. They could have bought all 20 cakes! And of course, Bee Family won the turkey dinner. It was a test for me to practice sweetness in the face of total disaster.

I told myself that this was a good thing. I still had SIX dollars to buy my “chicken” dinner. And spare change to get two ice cream cones for two pretty sad little boys.

We got to our car and I was loading the kids in, when Mr. Bee came up to me with this HUGE box, the hump of a gigantic turkey peering over the edge; potatoes, stuffing, Pumpkin Pie, the WORKS. “We've already got our turkey – this would just go to waste – would you mind taking it off our hands?”

Well, I tell ya, I could hardly talk to him as I choked up and teared up and tried to wrestle all those nasty feelings that were turning around in my head.

There are many things to be thankful for. I am always thankful that my thoughts didn't come out of my mouth.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

~Jeanie~

IFF: Boot Gummint From Charity Biz

Entering a season of charitable giving, a story a few days ago on NBC News caught my eye. It was about a woman named Mary Donnelly, an 83-year-old  nurse who “cares for her neighbors the way people used to in this country,” said news anchor Brian Williams. On Block Island, Rhode Island, Mary established a charitable foundation in 1979, and has been answering calls for help from people ever since. She responds to appeals for assistance paying electricity bills and mortgages, money to build wheelchair ramps and buy food. Mary's August fundraiser is considered the island's “the social event of the season” and provides the revenue to send out the support checks she provides. But Williams' intro for the story perhaps unwittingly leaves an unanswered question: Why do people no longer care for their neighbors the way they used to? The answer is fairly simple, actually: The government has taken on the role of caregiver/Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation. More here.

Question: Do you agree with Hoffman that we're less charitable today because we expect government to take care of human needs & suffering?

Basketball game pits SPD v. SCSO

Employees from the Spokane County Sheriff's Office and the Spokane Police Department will compete in a basketball game for charity tonight.

The game begins at 7 p.m. at the Hub Sports Center, 19619 E. Cataldo Ave. The location is east of Barker Road behind Freedom RV.

Admission is $3. Proceeds benefit the Salvation Army. Attendees are asked to donate non-perishable food items.

Give wisely, Reed and McKenna say

OLYMPIA — The state’s naughty and nice list for charities and fund-raisers is out today, and state officials are suggesting that people be careful as well as generous this holiday season.

About $1.4 billion was donated to charities in the last year, but about $400 million of that didn’t go to the charity and instead went into overhead, administration or fund-raising costs.

The amount that actually goes to charitable work varies widely, and the state puts together a report each year on how much is spend on non charitable works by commercial fundraisers.

How widely? At the top of the list is Geen Point Call Center Services, Inc., which turns over 98 percent of what it raises to its charity clients.

At the bottom is DialogueDirect, Inc., has a negative percentage of -122 percent, meaning it actually costs charities more than they receive.

An executive summary of the report can be found here. The full list can be found here.

Be charitable but careful

The Washington Secretary of State’s office is urging caution in making donations to relief operations for victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

“Often, scammers use tragedies like these to say they are helping a cause and to pocket the donations of generous people. Don’t be fooled!” the office warns on its Web site. It suggests checking to make sure the charity is registered in the state.

You can do that by clicking here for the list.

A Charity-a-Day: Health

American Cancer Society

The American Canccer Society is committed to  ”providing programs aimed at reducing the risk of cancer, detecting cancer as early as possible, ensuring proper treatment, and empowering people facing cancer to cope and maintain the highest possible quality of life.” according to the website, here.

The Relay For LIfe is the epitome of medical fundraising walks. The Relay for LIfe website, here, describes it as “Teams of people camp out at a local high school, park, or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event. Relays are an overnight event, up to 24 hours in length.” I’ve heard it’s pretty much amazing.

Make A Wish Foundation

Make-A-Wish is an incredible foundation. It grants “wishes” to children with life-threatening medical conditions. The wishes fall from “I want a playhouse,” to “I want to meet Miley Cyrus and see her concert.” I personally have experience with Make A Wish, and I only have good things to say. Our “Wish Granter,” Mitch, was amazing. He came out to the airport to wish us goodbye. He lived way out in the country, and our flight left at 6 AM. He met us at abut 4:30 AM. Amazing.

However, if you want to volunteer, the Ways to Help page on the site is very informative.

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation site, “Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide).”

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation holds various events throughout the year, but the one that’s most widely known is Great Strides, the fundraising walk. Spokane’s walk is held at the Jundt Art Museum on the Gonzaga campus. More information is here.

 

Labor and business clash over captive-audience meetings: unions call it a privacy issue, business says it’s a gag rule…

From the print paper:


OLYMPIA – For nearly two years, Dan Joy says, his boss at a Spokane grocery store badgered him and other employees to go to the boss’ church.

It would, they were told, help their careers.

Joy declined, over and over. He said his boss finally mocked him as just “a trinket-worshipping Catholic.”

Shortly after that, he says, he was fired over an unsubstantiated customer complaint from one of the boss’ fellow church members.

In what’s shaping up to be one of the biggest battles between organized labor and business in the statehouse this year, lawmakers are considering making it illegal to require workers to attend mandatory meetings if the topics are unionization, politics, religion or charitable donations.

Companies would still be free to hold the meetings. But they could no longer require employees to attend. If they try, workers could sue.

“It allows workers the right to choose not to listen to or participate in unwanted communication with their employer on issues of individual conscience,” said Rick Bender, president of the 500-local Washington State Labor Council.

Voting, donating to a charity, practicing one’s faith and joining a union “are all private decisions,” he said, and employers shouldn’t be allowed to compel workers to listen to pitches on those topics. Without such protection, Bender said, many employees dare not challenge the practice.

“What worker can afford to lose their job, particularly today?” he said.

The bill drew a standing-room-only crowd in Olympia Tuesday, with workers and company officials spilling into the hallway outside a hearing room.

Kris Tefft, general counsel for the Association of Washington Business, called the proposal “clearly the most divisive, controversial bill that this committee has heard in probably a decade.”