In case you missed our blog about this story earlier in the year, the nanny-state strikes again. Back in January, we told you about a new consumer "protection" law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, that was going into effect…
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, aka ACORN, was, until the past year, a relatively unknown organization to most Americans. Founded in 1970 and based in New Orleans, Louisiana, ACORN’s most visible face is that of a 501(c)(3) public charity ostensibly advocating for low- and moderate-income families in the areas of neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. ACORN also has a non-charitable arm that lobbies for primarily left-wing causes and candidates, as well as dozens of affiliated splinter groups. ACORN’s “charitable” division receives millions upon millions of dollars in federal grant money each year.
ACORN’s profile increased dramatically during last year’s presidential campaign, with then-Senator Obama’s candidacy and subsequent victory, himself having been a community organizer with close ties to the group. The problems for ACORN started when numerous chapters were busted for voter registration fraud. Estimates go as high as 400,000 falsely registered voters, including Mickey Mouse and Paul Newman. ACORN’s voter registration program is under investigation in 14 states, with over 30 indictments having been handed down so far with likely many more to come.
The idea for this article came from my good friend, Belinda from Madison, Alabama. A few weeks ago, she wrote us an email asking the following:
“Due to the economic downturn and, with the increasing requests for benevolence assistance, are there guidelines for churches and non-profits on what they can assist with and how much?”
Great question, Belinda. I know others are asking the same thing. Benevolence is synonymous with charity. It’s the very definition of it. But, there is a definite line between charity and what the IRS calls inurement (or private benefit). This economic recession has caused many churches and charities to be overwhelmed with requests for help. So, what follows are some things to consider when asking, “How much is too much?”
If there is one constant in life, it’s change. And most people don’t do “change” very well…even the IRS! The new 2008 Form 990 is a complete, top-to-bottom overhaul of the form (as we’ve discussed in previous posts). As we talk with more and more clients/prospects, we’re really starting to see some trends develop…most of them not good.
On January 24, 2009, National Heritage Foundation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. Is this the end for NHF?
National Heritage Foundation, NHF, was founded by J. T. “Dock” Houk as a 501(c)(3) fiscal agency for nonprofits using a donor-advised funds scheme. NHF operated under the premise that people shouldn’t have to be burdened by the regulatory compliance headache of running their own 501(c)(3) in order to do good and charitable things. One could just start an NHF “foundation” and have donors give directly to NHF, but designate the funds to their “foundation”. “Foundation” is in quotes because that is NHF’s terminology. NHF “foundations” are not considered true foundations. The idea was that by signing up with NHF, people could have what looks like a charity, but piggy-back on NHF’s tax-exemption. In theory, the “foundations” were an extension of NHF’s charitable mission. In return for its efforts, NHF took a small percentage of the donations for operating expenses.
Like so many theories, NHF’s didn’t work so well in practice. Early on, NHF aggressively promoted the idea that “foundation” directors should pay themselves well, even if they were the primary donor. In other words, you could start a “foundation” to do whatever, donate to your own “foundation” tax-deductibly through NFH, then pay yourself for your good deeds. Needless to say, this generated enormous controversy within charitable circles and drew the ire of the IRS and Congress. But technically, there was no law directly prohibiting such since these “foundations” were part of NHF and, in theory, NHF controlled the expenditure of funds.
Got your attention? Good…because what we’ve got to report on will shock you…and could have a devastating impact on some charities and the families that depend on them.
Congress, in a stroke of genius that was too smart by half, passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in August 2008. It takes affect February 10, 2009. The public is only now becoming aware of the draconian nature of the statute.