Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hearst v BAR Fdtns: SF Chronicle Discloses, BAR Doesn't

Back in November, Bay Area Reporter editor Cynthia Laird penned a generally fine column, "Follow the Money", about nonprofits, transparency and the importance of examining IRS 990s. She wrote:

From time to time we get criticized by nonprofit leaders who don't want to provide current financial information when asked . . .  And although there are hiccups at almost any nonprofit, keys to success are good leadership, transparency, and the ability to explain problems and outline corrective action. When those leaders won't provide financial information, it immediately raises red flags: do they have something to hide from the public or potential donors? . . . It's all about following the money . . .

All good at face value, however, in December 2010 when I asked Laird about the Bob A. Ross Foundation, started by the paper's founder, and asked why the BAR does not disclose donations from the foundation to local gay, AIDS and arts agencies covered by the paper, her first response was to forward my inquire to the paper's general manager. She eventually emailed a note from the current publisher that failed to address my disclosure questions.

Compare the BAR's fear of disclosing they have an affiliated foundation that doles out significant chunks of change to local groups to how the San Francisco Chronicle reports on Hearst Foundation checks to area groups. In July 2012, the Chronicle wrote about the Hearst Foundations awarding $1.7 million in grants and in December 2012, when the foundations gave out nearly an additional $1 million, the paper duly noted the latest grants.

The latest IRS 990 for the Ross Foundation is for fiscal year 2011, was filed in May 2012 but not posted to the Foundation Center site for public inspection until this week. All of their filings over the past ten-years are here.

Total assets were at $7.1 million in 2010 and donations came to $335,5000, and in 2011 the assets dropped to $6.7 million but grants climbed to $435,000.

Where did some of that $435,000 go? Among the grantees were the SF Ballet, $50,000, the New Conservatory Theatre Center, $35,000, the GLBT Historical Society, Frameline, AIDS Emergency Fund, Meals on Wheels all received $30,000,  while the Trevor Project and Larkin Street Youth Services were awarded $25,000 each. Dozens of other Bay Areas agencies received smaller amounts.

I would think the Ross Foundation's largess would be something to tout in the BAR, just like the Chronicle does. It's also my contention that since the BAR covers practically all of the agencies receiving Ross Foundation grants, there needs to be disclosure about this when those agencies are reported on.

The Ross Foundation also purchased stock in the Gilead and Bristol-Myers-Squibb in 2003, and sold some of the shares in 2011. Worth mentioning since the BAR reports on the AIDS drugs manufactured by those drug companies.

The BAR should follow the advice the editor gave to nonprofits in her column and provide transparency to readers to help us follow the money of the Ross Foundation. Finally, Thomas E. Horn, is both the publisher of the paper and director of the foundation.

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