It’s not every day that Augusta is featured in the Los Angeles Times, unless of course it happens to be Masters Week or there is a scandal involving a high-profile golfer such as Tiger Woods or John Daly.
But this week was a little different.
A news story written by Matt Pearce, a national reporter for the Los Angeles Times, included some of the most dreaded topics for any city in the South: a white nationalist, a scandalous donation and donors claiming total ignorance about basically everything.
The headline screams, “Georgia nonprofit says it unwittingly gave $25,000 to white nationalist Richard Spencer.”
So which city in the Peach State gets the honor of looking like a complete idiot in the national spotlight this week?
Augusta, Ga., of course.
According to the Los Angeles Times story published this week, the Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area was the largest donor to Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute nonprofit in recent years, providing $25,000 to the white nationalist group from 2013 to 2014.
The timing could not be worse for this revelation about the Community Foundation.
Each year, dozens of local agencies benefit from funding provided through the Masters Tournament and distributed via grants from the Community Foundation.
Just last year, more than $600,000 was given to nonprofits in this region for a variety of worthy causes, ranging from Golden Harvest Food Bank to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia to the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
In total, it is estimated that it gives away between $5 million to $9 million a year across the nation, but the local impact of this foundation has been tremendous.
The Community Foundation has been highly praised by local agencies who have benefitted from it for more than 20 years.
Over the past two decades, the Community Foundation has provided local grants totally more than $7.5 million. These grants are funded through the endowment from the Masters tournament and Augusta National Golf Club. The endowment reportedly currently exceeds $15 million.
But, now, it has a black eye. All thanks to, what appears to be, complete carelessness.
Or, at least, let’s hope so.
Let’s all just assume that the Community Foundation actually had no idea that they were providing $25,000 to a white nationalist.
Spencer is known to have anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic views which were ramped up during last year’s presidential campaign. In fact, he was a very vocal supporter of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
But apparently the Community Foundation had no knowledge of any of Spencer’s actions when it provided him the $25,000 donation from 2013 to 2014.
Ignorance is bliss, after all, right?
Because, let’s face it, the alternative is so much worse.
It is so much easier to drown your denial in a martini or a mint julep during Masters Week than trying to connect the dots.
Fortunately, for those who actually want to know what the hell happened here, Matt Pearce from the Los Angeles Times has helped fill in the blanks.
He spoke to the Community Foundation’s president and chief executive officer, Shell Knox Berry, who explained that the donations to Spencer’s group came from a “donor-advised fund.”
This donor-advised fund is “a common arrangement in the charity world in which a donor gives money to one group with the intention of having it forwarded to others,” according to the Los Angeles Times article.
Such an arrangement offers total anonymity for the parties involved.
“Neither Berry nor Spencer would reveal the identity of the original donor,” Pearce wrote. “Berry said her nonprofit’s board never reviewed the purpose of Spencer’s organization before approving the donations.”
If that’s the truth, there is a definite flaw in the donation approval system.
But Berry insisted that she was unaware of any donation given to a white nationalist.
“In no way did our organization, its board or its staff actively know or support the mission of this organization, and I don’t want it to be construed that we ever did,” Berry told the Los Angeles Times.
It should also be pointed out that Berry didn’t actually take over as chief executive officer of the Community Foundation until 2015, so she is kind of caught in the middle of a controversy she didn’t create.
The previous chief executive officer was R. Lee Smith Jr., who has been associated with the foundation since 1998.
But once the Los Angeles Times story broke, Berry didn’t really have a choice but to respond.
“Upon discovery of the mission and purpose of the NPI, Foundation management took immediate action to disassociate with NPI and, as of July of 2015, this donor advised fund no longer exists at the Community Foundation for the CSRA,” Berry wrote in a prepared statement to the media. “The Foundation, its staff, and its Board of Directors has no association whatsoever with the National Policy Institute.”
No association whatsoever… except for a $25,000 donation to a white nationalist.
Quite unfortunate, to say the least.