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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Innovia changing policy amid reports that it directed money to white nationalist group

The Innovia Foundation is changing its policy to avoid directing funds to hate groups.

The Innovia Foundation pledged Monday to no longer direct funds to a white nationalist website or any other groups that promote hate.

The announcement came less than a week after a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center highlighted how the Spokane-based community foundation sent funds from an anonymous donor to VDARE, a website that regularly publishes white nationalist authors and harshly anti-immigrant rhetoric.

In a statement, the Innovia Foundation said its board of directors plans to adopt a new anti-hate policy in April and emphasized that it stands in “opposition to hate groups and hate speech in all of its forms.”

“Hate flies in the face of everything we represent and seek to do as a community foundation,” the statement read.

Shelly O’Quinn, CEO of Innovia, and Meg Miller, president of its board of directors, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center report documented, using Innovia as a case study, how the law allows donor-advised funds to anonymously channel tax-deductible contributions through foundations like Innovia to any charity, including those that promote hate.

At the guidance of a donor, the Innovia Foundation has made several contributions, totaling less than $40,000, from a donor-advised fund to the VDARE Foundation over the objections of its former CEO Mark Hurtubise in 2016. At the time, Innovia was known as Inland Northwest Community Foundation.

Hurtubise told The Spokesman-Review on Monday that he’s hopeful Innovia’s action this week can be seen as a solution for other community foundations facing the same issue around the nation.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s more sweet (than bitter) because it’s taken three years to see this movement. I know nationally there will be people who celebrate the foundation stepping out of its own shadow of privacy and becoming more transparent,” Hurtubise said.

The Innovia Foundation lists dozens of donor-advised funds in its portfolio. They are separate from the funds the foundation has direct, discretionary control over. Still, Innovia’s own policies stipulate that a donor-advised fund’s “function is advisory only, and that the ultimate authority to direct distributions from the fund is vested solely in the Board of Directors.”

In its statement, Innovia clarified that the donor’s “expectation” when he established the donor-advised fund was that it would make distributions, according to his recommendations, to any certified nonprofit.

The board has adopted a new mission statement that it believes will provide legal justification to reject such requests in the future.

“We are committed to never again provide grant funds to organizations that promote hate,” Innovia said in its statement.

Both the foundation’s current leaders and Hurtubise have declined to identify the donor, citing their fiduciary responsibility.

Upon the Southern Poverty Law Center report’s release last week, O’Quinn initially declined to commit to rejecting any donation requests to VDARE in an interview with The Spokesman-Review. Instead, she said the foundation would “have a conversation” with the donor and continue to try to educate him about VDARE.

VDARE’s stated mission is 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 site describes itself as a “nonprofit journalistic enterprise,” but the Southern Poverty Law Center labels it as a hate group, and many others have flagged its penchant for promoting hate. VDARE’s founder, Peter Brimelow, has rejected the label white nationalist but has said that he is a “civic nationalist.” He once wrote that the increased number of Spanish speakers is a “ferocious attack on the living standards of the American working class” and in 2017 said “Hispanics do specialize in rape, particularly of children. They’re very prone to it, compared to other groups.”

When it learned about VDARE, Hurtubise said the foundation’s board should have rejected the donation request and had the full legal authority to do so.

“If the donor doesn’t relinquish control, it’s not a gift and you can’t make a tax deduction. If a donor keeps control, it’s not a deduction. It’s not a charitable gift,” Hurtubise said.