Nonprofits Ignore Controversy, Accept Koch Brothers' Gifts

The controversy sparked by gifts from conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch to institutions of higher education and other tax-exempt organizations is causing many in the social sector to ask, "Should nonprofit groups be concerned with a donor's political leanings?" the Wall Street Journal reports.

Critics of the Kochs argue that the brothers' philanthropy is tainted by their support for the Tea Party — their donor network reportedly raised $407 million for Tea Party candidates in 2012 — and other conservative causes, while the brothers' supporters call such reactions knee-jerk liberal intolerance. After the United Negro College Fund accepted a $25 million gift from Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation, for instance, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees severed ties with the venerable organization. Similarly, a $1 million gift from the Kochs to the Catholic University of America was met with protests by Catholic educators and students, while a $100 million gift from David Koch to New York-Presbyterian Hospital led to protests by the nurses' and healthcare workers' unions, the New York State NAACP, and the Working Families Party.

The question of whether or not to accept a gift from a controversial donor is typically a matter for the recipient's board of directors to decide, Naomi Levine, a veteran fundraiser and executive director of New York University's George H. Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising, told the Journal. Some, but not many, institutions and charities have policies in place with respect to such gifts, although they tend to focus on the legality of how the donor's wealth was earned and whether the donor has publicly made racist or anti-Semitic remarks, rather than his or her political leanings. Further complicating the issue, David Koch tends to restrict his giving to organizations and institutions he serves as a board member.

And despite the vocal opposition to the Kochs, institutions continue to accept the brothers' money, the Journal reports. "I don't know the politics of many of our donors," said Levine, who has raised funds for New York University. "I suspect many of them have politics that I would be unhappy with. But that's irrelevant. If the money comes to us made legally and allows us to do with it what the university needs, we will accept it."

Melanie Grayce West. "Charitable Gifts From Wealthy Koch Brothers Often Prompt Partisan Reactions." Wall Street Journal 08/03/2014.