Nonprofit news roundup for Jan. 16, 2009

Probe into alleged charity fraud launched

Andrew Cuomo, New York attorney general, subpoenaed J. Ezra Merkin, former chairman of GMAC Financial Services, and 15 nonprofits to determine whether Merkin defrauded universities and charities by investing their money with Bernard Madoff, The New York Times reported Jan. 15 (see fraud story). Many nonprofits are suing Merkin, who claims to be an unwitting victim of Madoff’s alleged $50 billion scam, for not disclosing where their funds were being invested. Nonprofits that invested with Madoff may have lost more than $100 million, Cuomo says.

Wisconsin university endowments lose over 20 percent

Three Wisconsin state universities may slash scholarships after their endowments tumbled more than 20 percent between June 30 and Nov. 30, The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Jan. 15 (see endowment story). The endowment of the University of Wisconsin, Stout, lost $8 million, or 25 percent, in that five-month period, while the endowments of the River Falls and Eau Claire branches dropped 24 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

EBay users gave $36 million to charity last year

Buyers and sellers on the eBay online auction site gave $36 million to nonprofits in 2008 through the site’s Giving Works program, WebProNews reported Jan. 15. With nearly 1.5 million users donating to charity, the site raised almost 20 percent more than it did the previous year. Giving Works allows eBay users to donate to nearly 15,000 organizations nationwide.

Blue Cross foundation scales back

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation cut its budget and jettisoned a new grant program after its endowment lost 26 percent of its value, The Boston Business Journal reported Jan. 16 (seeĀ budget story). Despite slashing its budget by 21 percent, the foundation pledged to honor all 84 grantee relationships it had in 2008.

In Brief:

* More than 1,000 conservation groups in California have lost a total of $647 million in state funding, derailing thousands of environmental projects and forcing nonprofits to lay off staff, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Jan. 16.

* Two nonprofits devoted to disabled-rights advocacy are suing the city of Los Angeles for omitting provisions for special-needs residents from its disaster-response plan, the Associated Press reported Jan. 15.

* North Dakota Rep. George Keiser is pushing to give local governments the right to levy property taxes on hospitals and other nonprofits, the Associated Press reported Jan. 15. Nonprofit lobbyists argue that charitable groups should be exempt from the tax because they provide needed public services that local governments cannot afford.

* The founder of a South Carolina charity has been sentenced to a year in prison for failing to report nearly $500,000 in income between 1999 and 2002, the Associated Press reported Jan. 16.

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