An interview article in today’s Star-Ledger with Mary Pat Christie indicates that the embryonic Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund is taking steps to create a credentialed and more robust organization. The interview addresses concerns about the fund raised in three Blue Jersey diaries, particularly, Think Twice Before Donating to Christie’s Hurricane NJ Relief Fund, as well as here and here.
After listing several donors to HSNJRF, including Hess and AT&T, the Blue Jersey diary raised a conflict of interest concern: “These large firms may be seeking to curry favor with Governor Christie.” In the Star-Ledger article Mrs. Christie says, “to suggest that somebody could be currying favor, it just doesn’t ring true.”
The Blue Jersey article pointed out that “HSNJRF states it is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization but does not indicate whether contributions are tax deductible. In fact the IRS Tax Exempt database does not list HSNJRF as a tax exempt group.” Mrs. Christie said, “The application for federal tax-exempt status was submitted Friday and, once approved, the exemption will be retroactive.” The fund apparently was raising money and representing itself as a 501 (c) (3) organization before it applied to the IRS. Ultimately, it is only the IRS which will determine whether HSNJRF meets the criteria. Even after a disaster and even if the principals are well known people, this should have been made clear: the IRS often responds slowly so it may be some time before donors learn whether their contributions are indeed tax exempt.
The Blue Jersey article noted that unlike other relief funds there would be no “rapid distribution of monies or assets” as implied in early statements. Mrs. Christie said, “they have not yet determined how to distribute the money.”
The Blue Jersey diary indicated that early on “There was no discussion with a board of directors as to goals, objectives and action plans because no board existed.” The S-L article indicates “More trustees may be added, but for now the first lady [said] Bill Palatucci, a Republican national committeeman and the governor’s close friend, and Jerry Zaro, a Democratic fundraiser and economic czar under Gov. Jon Corzine are registered as the trustees of the fund.” It is good that now two Board members have been appointed but more are needed to be effective.
As a close confidante, donor, and fundraiser for Governor Christie, Bill Palatucci’s appointment does not reduce the concern for conflicts of interest. Palatucci’s management position at the much-maligned Community Education Centers (from which he just resigned) and his defense of this halfway house organization do not inspire confidence. The also maligned informant Solomon Dwek claimed Jerry Zaro was a “big help when certain approvals were needed.” Zaro was never charged with any wrongdoing.
The Blue Jersey article quoted Governor Christie saying, “Mary Pat will run the fund.” The diary continued, “By all accounts Mary Pat Christie is a bright, successful Wall Street executive, but there should be a seasoned professional with experience in management of large philanthropic non-profits to run the group. There has been no announcement of such a hiring nor of other needed staff members.” Mrs. Christie said, “I will personally be involved and have really smart people at the helm making these decisions.” With the fund now having “raised $16.5 million from more than 7,000 donations,” and with an abundance of worthy causes following the hurricane catastrophe, there is a need to acquire such “really smart people” soon.
After a slow and rocky start I hope this fund will grow into an organization which will make an important contribution to the relief effort.