Governor Christie’s Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund (HSNJRF) has certainly succeeded in raising money, particularly from large firms which routinely lobby state government, and has raise the image of Chris Christie who will likely re-run for governor. However, other existing organizations are already operating and are better equipped to respond to the disaster. HSNJRF has not announced donations are tax exempt, existence of a Board of Trustees, hiring of an experienced, qualified executive to run the organization, any grant or award to individuals, or a conflict of interest policy, It has provided very little information about itself, and some of its statements appear misleading.
HSNJRF’s single-page website solicits donations but provides scant information: a Mendham post office box, email address, photo, and message from Mary Pat Christie. On its facebook page HSNJRF states it is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization but does not indicate whether contributions are tax deductible. IRS is granting expedited 501 status to Hurricane Sandy charities, but often withholds exempt status determination pending further review. In fact the IRS Tax Exempt database does not list HSNJRF as a tax exempt group. According to one report, as of November 9 over 4,000 people had contributed to the fund, many of whom may have assumed their contributions are tax deductible. An email response from HSNJRF on Saturday provided some additional information about the organization (including its Employee ID #: 36-4745729), but another email request yesterday asking about its tax exempt status has elicited no response.
Governor Christie garnered press attention, praise and applause at his November 3 Little Ferry Town Hall meeting when he announced the creation of HSNJRF. He went on to say his wife Mary Pat would run the fund. 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.
At the Town Hall affair Christie said his wife would appoint a board of directors to establish criteria for how money would be distributed. HRNJSF was created by Christie only days after Sandy struck us, and it soon became apparent that little planning or action had taken place to build a successful foundation. There was no discussion with a board of directors as to goals, objectives and action plans because no board existed. A board, in fact is the entity responsible for directing a charity’s activities. A board is also a requirement for approval as a 501 (c) (3) exempt status organization.
There is more below the fold, including contributors, why monies are not being spent now, how much will be used for relief, and advice to potential donors.
Relief funds are generally believed to be organizations which rapidly and efficiently distribute money and resources in an emergency. A response to my first email indicated, “At this time, we are constructing the organization and do not have a direct way for individuals or businesses to apply for aid.” Unfortunately, without emailing HCNJRF, donors may not realize that there will be no rapid, efficient distribution of money or resources. (HSNJRF’s above statement does not exclude the possibility that on its own accord and without written proposals from applicants that HSNJRF might give out funds anyway. Such is not sound grant management practice, increases potential conflicts of interest, is not fair to potential recipients, and increases the likelihood of poor grant decisions.)
A response to the first email also indicates, “100% of the money donated to the Relief Fund will go towards immediate relief efforts to those affected by Hurricane Sandy in addition to the long term recovery efforts across the State.” We already know that little or no money will go to immediate relief. Furthermore, as with other similar groups, something like to 10% to 30%, will go to pay the funds’ operating expenses not to immediate or long term recovery.
Organizations are not allowed to raise funds until they register with the NJ Charity Registration Section. Only early this week did HSNJRF appear in the state charities database. Its registration # is CH3558500 with a Mendham P.O. Box and a Chatham phone number: 973-701-2424. A call to that phone number revealed it was the location of HSNJRF’s current operations center. The individual answering the phone said someone would get back to me regarding tax exempt status, but no one has so far. The individual also said HSNJRF was in the process of setting up an 800 number, a standard for relief agencies, but it is not yet operating to answer questions from potential donors.
Companies announced in the press as donors to HSNJRF include Hess ($2.5 million), AT&T ($1 million), NY Jets ($500,000), Bank of America ($335,000), and Rite Aid ($50,000). These large firms may be seeking to curry favor with Governor Christie. HSNJRF has published no conflict of interest statement regarding board members, staff, donors and recipients.
Individuals who wish to provide immediate relief, be assured they will receive a tax deduction, contribute to an already established relief agency or avoid dealing with a fund which might have conflicts of interest should consider donating elsewhere.