The foundation’s donations to Spencer’s group — which is headquartered in Montana — came to light after Spencer gave the Los Angeles Times three years’ worth of unpublished tax returns.
Shell Knox Berry, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a Times interview that the grants to Spencer’s group did not come from the philanthropy’s “unrestricted fund,” which is supported in part by contributions from the Augusta National Golf Club and Masters tournament.
Rather, Berry told the Times, the money for Spencer’s group came from a “donor-advised fund” that provides anonymity to the original donor. It essentially works this way: A person or group donates money to a foundation and ear-marks the name of the group that it wants the foundation to distribute the money to.
On Tuesday, Berry said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her foundation had not known the intent of Spencer’s National Policy Institute.
“Upon discovery of the mission and purpose of the NPI, Foundation management took immediate action to disassociate with NPI and, as of July of 2015, this donor-advised fund no longer exists at the Community Foundation for the CSRA,” Berry wrote in the statement. “The Foundation, its staff, and its Board of Directors has no association whatsoever with the National Policy Institute.”
Reached by phone, Berry declined further comment.
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Neither Berry nor Spencer would say who donated the money for Spencer’s group. In an email response to an interview request from The AJC, Spencer said he intends to keep the donor’s identity a secret.
“I will never reveal the name of a donor unless I’m required to by the United States government,” Spencer wrote.
He also confirmed that the Augusta foundation had severed all ties with his National Policy Institute.
“No, we no longer have a relationship with the Augusta Community Foundation,” he wrote. “We did for a while though, even before I was involved with NPI.”
The IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of a group run by Richard Spencer because of its failure to file tax returns. Spencer told the LA Times it was an error and he plans to appeal. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
The Augusta foundation gave money in 2016 to such groups as the Aiken Center for the Arts, which received $15,000 for an Alzheimer’s/dementia therapy program; Augusta Urban Ministries, which received $15,000 for a furniture bank; and the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, which was given $9,750 for a recording studio at the school.
According to the foundation’s IRS Form 990 filings, it gave out $9.8 million in total grants in 2013, and distributed $5.8 million in total grants in 2014.
R. Lee Smith Jr., former CEO of the foundation, said its ties to Spencer’s group was news to him.
“I don’t recall that,” Smith said.
Smith also said he was unfamiliar with the National Policy Institute and had not heard of Spencer.
“We have hundreds of donors, and when donors give money we check to see if the organization they want to give to is a legitimate 501(c)3,” Smith said. “If it’s legitimate, we grant, if it’s not, we don’t.”
Berry told the Times that she didn’t want her foundation to have anything to do with Spencer.
“In no way did our organization, its board or its staff actively know or support the mission of this organization, and I don’t want it to be construed that we ever did,” Berry told the Times.
James M. Hull, vice chair of the Georgia Board of Regents, sits on the board of the Augusta foundation. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.