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Shawn Vestal: Despite warnings, Innovia leaders funneled checks to group that sees U.S. as a ‘white nation for white people’

Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / DAN PELLE)

Three years ago, the CEO of the multimillion-dollar Inland Northwest Community Foundation – now called Innovia – warned the board that they were about to lie down with a dog.

The board ignored him. Now Innovia has a serious case of fleas, and the group’s leaders are giving every indication that they plan to stay firmly in bed with the mangy mutt.

We learned this week that for four years Innovia has acted, in essence, as a money launderer for an organization whose founder believes America is a “white nation for white people” – funneling upward of $40,000 toward the group, VDARE.

Especially troubling is the fact that, years after their former CEO, Mark Hurtubise, sounded the warning, Innovia actually increased the amount it directed to VDARE, from an initial $5,000 to $22,000 last year, according to tax filings.

In other words, as the demands of decency called for a dramatic act of social distancing, our community’s charitable giving foundation snuggled up closer to VDARE.

This was an atrocious decision, one that flies in the face of the foundation’s stated values of “diversity, equity and inclusion,” and jeopardizes its well-earned good name. The donations were made at the behest of a single, secret donor via a donor-advised fund, but it is the foundation leadership that is truly blowing it here.

The board has the final say on these grants and the board said yes, repeatedly.

The buck stops there.

Innovia CEO Shelly O’Quinn tried this week to rationalize this choice, insisting Innovia had done its due diligence on the grants, and reiterating that the donor in question – whose identity is obscured thanks to the foundation – believes that VDARE is just an educational group on the subject of immigration. She said foundation officials approached the donor and alerted him to the “possible controversial nature” of VDARE, but he reiterated his desire that the group get the money.

“In consideration of the donor’s desire to support VDare Foundation, and the organization’s status as a legal charitable entity, the Foundation chose to award the grant per the donor’s recommendation,” she said in a written statement.

She also noted that VDARE is a nonprofit organization, which means it meets the minimum legal threshold to receive a grant, and outlined a series of actions Innovia has taken in recent years to reorganize and improve its commitment to diversity and inclusion. She said Innovia would be contacting the Southern Poverty Law Center, which included the VDARE grant in a report issued earlier this week, to “request revisions to the report that reflect Innovia’s work over the past two years.”

Presumably, O’Quinn is not referring to the latest $22,000 gift to VDARE, which was made within the past two years.

This response is, frankly, beyond belief. Innovia did its due diligence … and went ahead anyway? It reorganized the board and renamed itself … and therefore its routine funneling of money to this atrocious nonprofit is somehow less bad? It looked into this organization, with such an easily findable history of ugly, bigoted statements … and concluded it had a “possible controversial nature”?

This foundation has long been a vital community institution, and has provided enormous support to good causes all over Eastern Washington. (It also has funded community programs in partnership with The Spokesman-Review.)

To this proud history, it has added VDARE. It’s right there on the annual reports, at least on the one from 2017.

There’s the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, the Union Gospel Mission, the Wounded Warrior Project – and VDARE (which even conservative gadfly Ben Shapiro defined as “white supremacist”).

There’s the Spokane Public Library Foundation, the Spokane Civic Theatre, the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church – and VDARE (whose founder, Peter Brimelow, once said, “There’s ethnic specialization in crime. And Hispanics do specialize in rape, particularly of children.”)

There’s the Wilbur Cemetery Foundation, the Morning Star Boys Ranch, the Spokane Folklore Society – and VDARE (which published an article on its website this week arguing that Greeks should shoot asylum seekers in the legs.)

And there is, I kid you not, the Southern Poverty Law Center – and VDARE (which the SPLC deems a “hate group”).

The people leading Innovia should excise this cancer immediately. Instead, they have spun like tops. O’Quinn’s claims of due diligence are either absurd or repellent. Either Innovia didn’t discover that VDARE publishes articles on its website about how African Americans have lower IQs than white people – or they did, and sent them 22 grand anyway.

Either they didn’t realize that Brimelow once said the increase in Spanish speaking represents a “ferocious attack on the living standards of the American working class” – or they did, and gave it their stamp of approval.

Either they didn’t know that one expert said VDARE is one of the white nationalist groups in America that provide “a pseudo-intellectual veneer to classic racism” – or they did know and decided to help polish that veneer.

That’s the deep problem for Innovia going forward – the thing that really challenges whatever positive, decent action the foundation takes from here on out. O’Quinn and the board members have been perfectly aware of what VDARE is, and they’ve continued to lend it their good name as a funnel for secret donations.

Whatever happened behind the scenes, whatever pressure the donor may have brought to bear, whatever tradeoffs Innovia thinks they got from the transaction, it is the foundation’s good name that was brokered here, and the keepers of that name failed.

Hurtubise began warning the board about VDARE in early 2017. Hurtubise was president and CEO of the foundation for 12 years, stepping down in 2017. Repeatedly, according to email records provided to the S-R, he urged the board to reject the VDARE grant.

He personally refused to sign the check to the organization in 2017, after the board ignored his rejections and approved sending $5,000 to VDARE.

The check went anyway. And since then, O’Quinn and the board have stayed the course and kept sending those checks.

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