Nonprofit news roundup – Week 12.24.07

* A new breed of billionaire philanthropist is cropping up, thanks to recent wealth booms in once-destitute countries that have made some of their citizens extremely rich, The New York Times reported Dec. 14. Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helú, Russia’s Roman Abramovich, India’s Azim Premji, and Turkey’s Husnu M. Ozyegin are applying their billions to a returns-driven philanthropy focused on the basic needs of their countries, most notably education and health care.

* The rich are getting richer faster than ever, with the increase in incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans between 2003 and 2005 exceeding by 37 percent the total income of the poorest fifth of the country, The New York Times reported Dec. 15. The data, from a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, leaves unclear whether this rising disparity is a result of tax cuts or market gains.

* U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is seeking better regulation of “embedded giving,” the increasingly popular practice of enticing consumers to purchase with promises to donate portions of proceeds to charity, The New York Times reported Dec. 16. An earlier Times article reported on loose contracts or none at all binding retailers to charities, some of which were not aware they had been named recipients of a company’s touted largesse.

* Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation programs are having a mixed impact in Africa, focusing on diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria with such narrowness they often undermine their own effectiveness by drawing scarce materials and staff resources away from basic health needs, the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 16. Gates Foundation officials say that while basic health is mainly a government responsibility, vast improvements in rudimentary care in small countries like Lesotho could be made for a fraction of the money committed to higher-profile diseases.

* Former President Bill Clinton’s presidential library has covered more than 10 percent of its $165 million in construction costs through foreign contributions, The Washington Post reported Dec. 15. Through interviews and tax records, the Post ferreted out donors, including several foreign governments and Middle Eastern business executives, that the library has concealed.

* Todd Buchholz, former White House economic policy director, writing in a guest column in the Wall Street Journal Dec. 7, suggested a plan for reforming university endowments. The group of disgruntled senators threatening to require university endowments to pay out at least 5 percent each year “should mind their own business,” and colleges should speed up the current trend of turning loans into grants and use their “bulging endowments” to expand undergraduate class sizes, he wrote.

* Atlanta’s United Way, one of the charity’s three largest branches, has come under scrutiny over chief executive Mark O’Connell’s $1.6 million retirement package, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Dec. 18. Yet despite a series of similar scandals since United Way of America chief William Aramony was convicted of defrauding the charity in the 1990s, the group’s nationwide fundraising totals are up 2.3 percent over last year, The Washington Post reported Nov. 30.

* New Schools for New Orleans has received a total of $17.5 million from three foundations to fund the creation of new public charter schools and staff recruitment and training, the Associated Press reported Dec. 13. The donors are the Eli and Edythe Broad, Doris & Donald Fisher, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations.

* Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is facing heat over Action America, a nonprofit he formed that supplemented his salary as lieutenant governor of Arkansas through public speaking tours, The New York Times reported Dec. 15. Critics say Huckabee used the tours in 1994 and 1995 to oppose Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan, using tobacco money from companies like R.J. Reynolds. A failure to disclose these earnings in tax filings resulted in one of 16 ethics complaints filed during his tenure as an Arkansas public official.

* Brandeis University has received a $22.5 million grant from the Mandel Foundation for an interdisciplinary humanities center, The Boston Globe reported Dec. 19. The gift, among the largest in the university’s history, is an unusually generous one for the humanities.

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