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Earlier this year on April 23,Reuters published findings of a review it performed on the Clinton Foundation‘s tax filings.
It was a splash. That same day, Reuters‘ story was picked up by The Atlantic,The Huffington Post, NBC,The Hill, and Politico, just to name a few.
The news agency “found errors in how [the charity] reported donations from governments,” raising questions of wrongdoing and a suspicious lack of transparency. Here’s the breakdown of theClinton Foundation tax errors:
The charities’ errors generally take the form of under-reporting or over-reporting, by millions of dollars, donations from foreign governments, or in other instances omitting to break out government donations entirely when reporting revenue, the charities confirmed to Reuters. The errors, which have not been previously reported, appear on the Form 990s that all non-profit organizations must file annually with the Internal Revenue Service to maintain their tax-exempt status. A charity must show copies of the forms to anyone who wants to see them to understand how the charity raises and spends money.
The unsettled numbers on the tax returns are not evidence of wrongdoing but tend to undermine the 990s role as a form of public accountability, experts in charity law and transparency advocates told Reuters.
For three years in a row beginning in 2010, the Clinton Foundation reported to the IRS that it received zero in funds from foreign and U.S. governments, a dramatic fall-off from the tens of millions of dollars in foreign government contributions reported in preceding years.
A Clinton Foundation spokesman, Craig Minassian, emailed toReuters an explanation. He promised the erroneous tax returns would be refiled.
“We are prioritizing an external review to ensure the accuracy of the 990s from 2010, 2011 and 2012 and expect to refile when the review is completed,” Minassian wrote.
Fast forward to November.
It appeared, according to Politico‘s Josh Gerstein on Nov. 2, that the charity may have juked the public with a false promise.
You see, the Clinton Foundation faced a Nov. 16 deadline to refile its erroneous returns (and to file, for the first time, its 2014 returns).
But Gerstein reported that Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian indicated Friday there is no specific deadline for revisions to past forms. Minassian did not say definitively whether any revised forms will be filed in the near future or ever.
“November 16 is only the IRS deadline for the previous year’s (2014) 990 to be filed,” Minassian said. “We’ll keep you posted on our plans.”
Questions about Minassian’s doublespeak were ultimately dispelled on Nov. 16, when the Clinton Foundation refiled six years’ worth of erroneous returns.
Here’s what we know…
Clinton Foundation Tax Errors: What’s in the Refiled Documents?
Clinton Foundation officials said Monday it amended with the IRS its reporting of foreign government donations and other errors, dating back six years. According to Reuters, the foundation refiled its Form 990 tax returns for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, while the Clinton Health Access Initiative – a charity under TCF’s umbrella – refiled its returns for 2012 and 2013.
“The charities said they were not legally required to refile the forms and were only doing so in the interest of transparency following what the foundation’s president, Donna Shalala, called an ‘exhaustive review.'”
Shalala directed a letter to foundation supporters that explained a new firm – DLA Piper – had been brought in to audit the former filings. Piper discovered “several types of errors,” but according to Shalala, none were substantive.
“There is no change in our bottom line numbers: assets, liabilities, and net assets,” she wrote. “There is nothing to suggest that the Foundation intended to conceal the receipt of government grants, which we report on our website.”
On the foundation’s website, Shalala wrote the following:
Although the exhaustive review found several additional errors, our external tax reviewers informed us that the errors did not require us to amend our returns; There is no change in our bottom line numbers: assets, liabilities, and net assets; and we do not owe any taxes.
Our reviewers advised us the Foundation has no legal obligation to file amended returns, but that if we did file an amended return it would be important for us to correct errors found in the review.”
Reuters reported the main amendment was that the Clinton Foundation failed to report $20 million in donations, mostly from foreign governments. The charity now says it received nearly $20 million in funds from governments (mostly foreign) between 2010 and 2013. In prior returns, it failed to separately state government funding as required by tax law.
Transparency over the source and amount of donations is required by the IRS for a charity to maintain its tax-exempt status. In other words, if the IRS took issue with TCF’s errors – which it hasn’t – it could revoke the foundation’s exemption from having to pay taxes on donations.
This transparency rule is in place so that the public can see how a charity raises and spends its money – arguably the most crucial test of integrity for these organizations.
According to Reuters, the refiled forms that amend Clinton Foundation tax errors also break out previously unreported income derived from speeches to corporations.
Meanwhile, the new 2014 filings revealed the foundation raised $178 million last year – a five-year record for the charity’s annual fundraising. It finished the year with cash reserves of $354 million, the largest in its 17-year history.
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