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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Report: White nationalist group given grant through Spokane-based Innovia Foundation

The Innovia Foundation in Spokane has distributed $80 million to area charities, nonprofits and universities during its 46 years in existence. (Jonathan Brunt / The Spokesman-Review)
By Kip Hill and Adam Shanks The Spokesman-Review

A national report released Tuesday said an unidentified Spokane man donated thousands of dollars to a white nationalist group through the community’s Innovia Foundation.

The foundation’s board of directors approved the grant over the objections of Innovia’s former CEO Mark Hurtubise, according to emails and memos.

The disclosure follows the release of a Southern Poverty Law Center and Council on American and Islamic Relations study that included the $5,000 donation to a group called VDARE as part of its investigation into hate-free philanthropy. The report cites the Spokane-based foundation’s 2018 tax forms detailing the donation, and that Hurtubise, who served as the organization’s president from 2005-17, refused to sign off on the grant prior to his departure from the foundation after it was requested by the donor.

VDARE bills itself as a “nonprofit journalistic enterprise,” but it espouses views that one political scientist told The New York Times amounted to “a pseudo-intellectual veneer to classic racism.” On its website, VDARE – named for Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in America, in 1587 – argues against diversity.

“America is not a melting pot, or a tossed salad or any other fashionable dietary metaphor that strips our nation of its rightful identity. We founded a country unique to history that has its own philosophies, values, social structure, attitudes, festivals, foods and aesthetic,” the website reads.

Hurtubise said in an interview Tuesday that staff alerted him to the grant in late 2016, ahead of his planned departure that June. He shared his concerns with the chairman of the nonprofit’s board after researching the organization and determining their values clashed.

“It’s a community foundation, with the operative word being ‘community,’ ” Hurtubise said. “A community, in this region, is made up of all its citizens.”

Of VDARE, he noted: “They don’t concur with that value.”

Innovia CEO Shelly O’Quinn said the foundation performed its due diligence on VDARE and “had a conversation” with the donor about the grant recipient. The donor, whom Innovia will not identify, “expressed his support for the mission” of VDARE. O’Quinn, a former Spokane County commissioner, was not part of the initial decision by the then Inland Northwest Community Foundation, which was rebranded as Innovia in 2018.

“He requested to continue to make that grant,” O’Quinn said. “In consideration of the donor’s desire to support an education foundation, that actually is a legal charitable entity, the board decided to make that grant.”

VDARE’s stated mission is two-pronged, to educate the public on “the unsustainability of current US immigration policy and second, the ‘National Question,’ which is the viability of the US as a nation-state.”

The money came through a donor-advised fund that Innovia administers. It is separate from the discretionary funds Innovia directly oversees, O’Quinn noted. The foundation’s policies regarding donor-advised funds states their “function is advisory only, and that the ultimate authority to direct distributions from the fund is vested solely in the Board of Directors.”

O’Quinn, who joined Innovia in 2017, stressed that the foundation is “committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“We have done board training, we’ve done staff training, and actually led community conversations around the fact that race matters,” O’Quinn said.

If the VDARE donor were to request to make another contribution through Innovia, O’Quinn said “a conversation would be had with the donor” to determine whether or not Innovia would facilitate it.

“We continue to educate the donor on the challenges and the controversies around that organization, as per our policy,” O’Quinn said. “We’re continuing to educate the donor on those concerns around the organization. He, this donor, truly believes that this is an education foundation on immigration.”

VDARE’s website states that “mass immigration both legal and illegal has driven America to the verge of bankruptcy in the following areas: employment, real incomes, national security, crime, housing, health care, education, race relations and culture.”

As it moves forward, O’Quinn said Innovia is working with new donors to ensure they understand the foundation’s mission and core values.

“When you have historical funds, it’s a different conversation,” O’Quinn said.

Innovia is not the only community foundation in the country to grapple with this issue.

O’Quinn said the foundation continues to explore “what do we do when our donors want to make a grant that is not in alignment with our values as a foundation.”

“There’s no easy answer to that,” said O’Quinn, who had not yet read the Southern Poverty Law Center report on Tuesday.

Innovia’s latest tax filings list $6.8 million in grants to organizations in the Inland Northwest, including church organizations, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, local universities and nonprofits supporting parks, homeless services and the arts. Innovia also has funded local journalism and community forum projects in partnership with The Spokesman-Review.

The donor-advised fund has contributed less than $40,000 in total to VDARE, which O’Quinn contrasted with the more than $80 million Innovia has distributed during its 46 years in existence.

“We are doing such great work in this community and while we’re not perfect, I would hate for all of that great work and impact we’re having on our community … to get lost in this,” O’Quinn said.

Hurtubise, a local attorney and former college administrator, led the foundation for 13 years. He asked the foundation’s board to reject the grant to VDARE. In emails and memos regarding the VDARE grants, he argued the foundation was not legally required to give the money at the request of the donor. Hurtubise said the grant, which must be reported on the organization’s tax filings, would also have a detrimental effect on the image of Innovia.

Hurtubise said he came forward shortly after he left the foundation in 2017 after reading a Spokesman-Review story recounting the case of a black man who was assaulted and called a racial slur. He said he advocated for more transparency in how community foundations, which are charitable grant-making groups that number more than 750 nationwide, dispense their funds to prevent anonymous donations to hate groups.

But Hurtubise would also not say who had given the money to grant to VDARE.

“That would be a violation of my fiduciary responsibility,” he said, when asked who gave the money and how much.

VDARE’s founder, Peter Brimelow, has rejected the label of white supremacist and told Slate in 2018 he is a “civic nationalist.” He sued the New York Times in January for an article that called him an “open white nationalist.”

Meg Miller, the president of Innovia’s board of directors, declined to comment Tuesday.

Carol Wilson, a member of Innovia’s Board of Directors, said she did not have time for an interview but that she was a part of the decision to award funding to VDARE. She “felt really good” about the foundation’s review process.

“We had a very thoughtful conversation, a very sensitive conversation,” Wilson said, adding that Innovia is “very committed to diversity and inclusion.”

Betsy Wilkerson, a Spokane city councilwoman and a past and current member of Innovia’s Board of Directors, said the decision to award VDARE a grant was made during the year she was not serving.

Wilkerson said she had not read the Southern Poverty Law Center Report, but based on discussion she’s heard about the decision, “it does not make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”

“I know us to be pretty diligent,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said she would be open to a discussion about the foundation’s direction of funds that are donor-advised, particularly as it engages with diverse communities.

“We have to be very upfront, if we’re going to engage those communities, exactly where we stand. That will be critical,” Wilkerson said.

Multiple members of Innovia’s board of directors for fiscal year 2017 could not be reached on Tuesday, or declined to comment.

Staff writer Jared Brown contributed to this report.