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Making headlines – Week of 03.05.07

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* Defense attorneys in a suit against the nation’s largest Muslim charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, say discrepancies between an official government summary and the transcript of an FBI-wiretapped conversation prove the Bush administration may have fabricated some allegations against the group, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 25. The government closed the Dallas-based foundation shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on charges it had been funneling money to overseas charities controlled by Hamas.

* Fannie Mae will close its foundation and incorporate future charitable efforts into a new division to be headed by the foundation’s longtime president, Stacey D. Steward, the Washington Post reported Feb. 24.  The foundation has been criticized for using its tax-exempt status to advance business interests, and corporate CEO Daniel H. Mudd says the move will allow greater cooperation between Fannie Mae’s philanthropy and its business.

* The Supreme Court will decide whether taxpayers have the right to challenge federal financial aid for religious charities, the New York Times reported March 1. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed the suit to challenge what they characterize as “aggressive promotion” of religious organizations by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the competition for federal funding.

* Donations of $100 million or more by individuals hit a record high in 2006 according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey, USA Today reported Feb. 27. Among the largest donors were Warren Buffett, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, David Rockefeller, oilman T. Boone Pickens and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

* Seven philanthropies will contribute a total of more than $4.3 million to help treat uninsured workers and residents who developed serious illnesses after the Sept. 11 attacks, the New York Times reported Feb. 25. The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, the New York Community Trust, the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute each will contribute $1 million to the 9/11 Neediest Medical Campaign.

* Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has amended Senate financial disclosure reports that failed on five occasions to list her position as treasurer and secretary of a family charity the Clintons have operated since 2001, the Washington Post reported Feb. 27. Clinton’s spokesman characterizes the omission as an oversight.

* A publicly-funded prisoner rehabilitation program, which awards better living conditions to inmates who accept its evangelical Christian teachings, was declared unconstitutional by a state court in Iowa and the decision now is being reviewed by appellate judges, the Washington Post reported Feb. 25. InnerChange Freedom Initiative, which runs the program, says state money paid only for secular aspects of the effort, but both sides say the suit may influence the future of President Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

* An unusual collaboration of environmental concerns and business interests influenced what could be the largest buyout in history should a bid led by private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis and Texas Pacific to buy Texas energy giant TXU Corporation prove successful, the New York Times reported Feb. 26. Hoping to diffuse controversy arising from the planned purchase, negotiators from the equity firms met with environmental advocates to devise a plan to reduce TXU’s coal plant construction and establish a strict set of environmental rules.

* The Pew Charitable trust will award $2.2 million over two years to four think-tanks, two liberal and two conservative, to study American economic mobility, the Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 27 [subscription only]. By enlisting scholars from both sides of the political spectrum, Pew aims to broaden the terms of the debate on inequality and create a consensus on the continued viability of the American dream.

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