On September 27th, 2014, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks addressed the yearly meeting of The Gathering, which is the subject of an ongoing Twocare.org/Center Against Religious Extremism (CARE) investigation as the biggest hub of anti-LGBT rights funding in America. The Gathering was launched following a 1985 meeting at the Arlington, VA headquarters of the Fellowship, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.
The biggest foundation represented at The Gathering is the National Christian Foundation, a charity whose anti-LGBT rights giving is so extensive that CARE has developed an encyclopedia to list some of the more notable or egregious of the anti-gay ministries and organizations that the NCF funds.
Intertwined with the main NCF donor-advised fund (that was ranked in 2013 to be America’s 12th biggest charitable foundation by the Chronicle of Philanthropy) are dozens of related foundations with interlocking boards, and among which money flows back and forth in a labyrinthine maze of financial relationships that would probably take a dedicated team of trained tax accountants and analysts many months to sort out. So far, no one has bothered – even though the NCF now makes grants on the scale of the Ford Foundation.
Is there money laundering involved ? Nobody really knows – but as for the National Christian Foundation’s basic donor-advised fund model the answer would be: not from a legal standpoint.
That said, it might be regarded as such by the average person in the street confronted by the question, “what if you could give – anonymously, so that your identity was hidden – your charitable dollars to organizations that are working to strip both Americans and citizens in other countries of basic civil rights ?”
Of course, adding to the proposition the fact that the hypothetical charitable donation would also earn a huge tax break from the IRS would clarify the issue of its basic legality. The issue of whether U.S.-based nonprofits can spend their (anonymous) donor dollars by working to strip people in foreign countries of basic human rights is not (to the best of my knowledge) a question which has yet been resolved in American or international jurisprudence.
But that’s how the National Christian Foundation, a donor-advised fund, works: The identity of donors is shielded. Moreover, those anonymous donors get bigger tax breaks than if they gave their charitable dollars to traditional nonprofits (for more on the startling complex ways the NCF operates, see this 2005 story by journalist Michael Reynolds.) But the NCF has developed other mechanisms for obscuring the issue of who is funding entities that are increasingly regarded, by the American public, as anti-gay hate groups.
Consider the boards that Terrill A. Parker – a surprisingly obscure Atlanta, GA tax lawyer and philanthropic giving genius – serves on:
In its 2012 990 tax form, the Family Research Council listed Parker on FRC’s board. The FRC has been designated, by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as an anti-LGBT hate group. Terry Parker is also one of three co-founders of the National Christian Foundation and its chairman emeritus. Twocare.org has identified the NCF, in an ongoing research project, as probably the biggest anti-gay funder in America.
From 2001-2012 NCF gave just eight major anti-gay organizations, including the Family Research Council, over $163,000,000. NCF money also funds anti-LGBT rights activism from America to Uganda to Russia.
But not all of the NCF’s anti-gay funding shows up on the 990 tax forms it submits to the Internal Revenue Service. Terrill A. Parker is also on the board of the Bengard Foundation, of the CA-based Bengard family, whose principal officer is Thomas Bengard (who donated $50,000 to pass California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8.)
Also on the Bengard Foundation board is Kim C. Bengard, who along with Thomas Bengard serves on the board of the Bengard family’s other charitable foundation and also on the board of the Family Research Council (along Terry Parker and with other heavyweight religious right financiers such as Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, mother of Blackwater founder Erik Prince and The Gathering featured speaker Betsy DeVos – who joined her husband Dick DeVos in a featured presentation to The Gathering 2001. Joining Family Research Council leadership in 2013 as one of its Vice Presidents was Former Undersecretary of Defense Jerry Boykin.)
On its first 2011 990 tax form (filed for the first half of 2011) The Bengard Foundation stated that its purpose was to “operate for the benefit of, perform the functions of, or to carry out the purposes of the National Christian Foundation, Inc.”
The Bengard Foundation is one of two conjoined Bengard charitable entities. It appears to have been created and capitalized in 2011. In the second half of 2011, the Section 4947(a)(1) Nonexempt Charitable Trust (Bernard) gave $829,766, the majority of it to anti-LGBT Christian culture war groups:
– Including $200,000 to the American Family Association (perhaps the most virulently hateful of the major Christian right anti-LGBT organizations), $175,000 to the Family Research Council, $100,000 to Rick Warren’s Orange County, CA-based Saddleback Church, $10,000 to the California Family Council, $20,000 to the California Family Policy Center, $10,000 to the CA-based Pacific Justice Institute, $30,000 to Gary Bauer’s American Values, $5,000 to Focus on The Family, $5,000 to the CO-based John Jay Institute, $7,000 to the National Day of Prayer (headed Shirley Dobson) and $1,000 to the National Organization for Marriage.
But the next year – in sync with National Christian Foundation funding of NOM, which only began in 2008 and reached its yearly high in 2012, at $117,000 – another Bengard Foundation began much more substantial funding of NOM.
In 2012, the only one from among those anti-LGBT Christian right culture war groups that were funded directly by the Bengard Foundation in 2011 which still get Bengard Foundation money was the Pacific Justice Institute, which received $10,000 from Bengard. But that’s true simply because the Bengard family shifted its anti-gay charitable dollars to its other foundation. The vast bulk of Bengard’s granting in 2012 – an astounding $9,525,132 – went to the other Bengard family foundation: the “It Takes A Family Foundation”.
That major infusion of cash re-capitalized the It Takes A Family Foundation and restored the foundation’s sagging ability (its granting had dwindled from $368,220 in 2007 to a mere $5,000 in 2011) to function as a cash cow funding the culture wars. The new funds allowed ITAFF to give out $756,925 in grants in FY 2012, including:
$10,000 to the John Jay Foundation, $3,000 to the “Manhatan [sic] Declaration”, $175,000 to Saddleback Church, $20,000 to the Pacific Justice Institute, $1,000 to the National Day of Prayer, $5,000 to Focus On The Family, $2,500 to the Council For National Policy, $1,500 to The Navigators (which in 1994 hosted one of the most important anti-LGBT rights conferences of the decade), $25,000 to American Values, $500 to Exodus International, $100,000 to the American Family Association, $200,000 to the Family Research Council, and $30,000 to the National Organization for Marriage.
Managing the tax paperwork for both Bengard Family Foundation has been the Atlanta, Georgia-based Ronald Blue & Co. LLC. Ron Blue, another surprisingly obscure Christian right financial wizard and another of the three co-founders of the National Christian Foundation along with Terry Parker and the late Christian financial adviser Larry Burkett – who in turn was also a co-founder of the Alliance Defense Fund (now “Alliance Defending Freedom”) that is, according to Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz “easily the most active antigay legal group”.