The Arkansas man who dropped $3 million into the super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee‘s bid for the Republican presidential nomination for years handed out millions of dollars to a secret list of public charities through a pass-through private foundation called The Jesus Fund, tax forms filed by the foundation show.
The Fund’s activity may violate federal tax law and Arkansas state law, according to experts who reviewed the forms for OpenSecrets Blog.
From 2006 until 2013, Ronald Cameron, CEO of the poultry company Mountaire Corp., used The Jesus Fund to funnel at least $26.2 million to “various public charities” without disclosing exactly which organizations received the funds, contrary to legal requirements. OpenSecrets Blog examined six years of tax forms submitted to the Internal Revenue Service.
Both Cameron and Mountaire gave to the entity, which had $43.5 million in assets by the end of 2013. In the six years, the Jesus Fund received $15.25 million from Mountaire and more than $10 million from Cameron himself, according to the documents. The Fund paid some fees and tax expenses, but the contributions to mystery organizations made up more than 92 percent of the Fund’s total disbursements.
Tax forms for 2008 and 2010 were not readily available online, but the forms reviewed do not adequately disclose the recipients of Cameron’s altruism, according to nonprofit organizations expert Marcus Owens, a former head of the IRS charity division. By not disclosing the names and addresses of the recipients, he said, the Fund is “courting trouble” by filing an “inaccurate return” to the IRS.
“The federal tax rules are quite clear, private foundations must report the names and addresses of each of their grantees, together with the amounts of each particular grant,” Owens said, adding that the way The Jesus Fund reported a lump sum, without any names or addresses, puts it at risk for civil penalties for an incomplete filing. It also runs the risk of criminal penalties if the IRS finds the tactic was a means to “obstruct or impede” the agency, Owens said.
The Fund has in the past been averse to public scrutiny — perhaps so much so as to run afoul of Arkansas state law. A spokesman for the Arkansas attorney general’s office, which is charged with overseeing the state’s charities, said the office could find no records on file for The Jesus Fund.
“This group is not registered with our office, which is likely a violation of Arkansas Code,” the spokesman said when contacted by OpenSecrets Blog. “We will be sending them a notice telling them that they need to register.”
Cameron and Mountaire emerged as major political donors in the 2014 cycle, when Mountaire joined the Koch brothers’ coalition of political financiers as the largest corporate donor to Freedom Partners Action Fund, giving $3 million to the super PAC. Freedom Partners and other Koch-backed groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel blanketed Arkansas with ads supporting Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and opposing his Democratic opponent, then-Sen. Mark Pryor. Cameron himself gave $600,000 to Arkansas Horizon, a super PAC that spent against Pryor. As Cotton and Pryor fought it out, the Emergency Committee for Israel and other conservative “dark money” groups wound up spending more than $4.2 million in the race to back Cotton.
Now, Cameron may become former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s savior. His $3 million donation to Pursuing America’s Greatness, which supports Huckabee in the race and also personally, is by far the largest contribution made to back Huckabee’s candidacy and earns him the title of 11th-biggest donor so far this cycle.
A Mountaire employee answered the phone at the number listed on The Jesus Fund’s 2013 tax filing. She said it would not be “viable” to speak with Cameron or Genevieve R. Couch, who was employed by Mountaire in 2001 and listed as a trustee for the Jesus Fund in some of the tax filings reviewed by OpenSecrets Blog. The company employee did not respond to detailed questions about the Jesus Fund and a request to review the Fund’s other tax filings on Friday.
Source: OPEN SECRETS