As Pennsylvania continues to grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the state’s top charitable registration agency is facing a backlash from some philanthropists and their allies over a controversial plan to use the state government’s charitable foundation to help register nonprofits.
The Pennsylvania Foundation Registration and Audit Authority is planning to use a $1.6 million grant to help fund its efforts to register and manage the more than 2,500 charitable organizations in the state.
The agency’s executive director, John J. O’Hara, said he hopes to have a list of 501(c)(3) nonprofits ready by mid-March, when a new state law requires those organizations to file paperwork for state-sanctioned registration.
Hara said the state will also use the $1 million grant in the same way it uses tax dollars to help the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Library of Medicine and other agencies.
O’HARA said the agency is committed to registering nonprofit groups as quickly as possible, and he’s not looking to make a quick buck by using money from the $500 million that the state received from the National Institutes of Health for Hurricane Sandy relief.
“We’re just going to do the best we can,” he said.
“We’re not trying to make money off of it.
We’re trying to help a lot of people.”
O’Rourke said he was told by a lobbyist at a private meeting that the grant would be used to help pay for the registration of charities that have already been approved by the state, but not for those that are awaiting registration.
“They were all very enthusiastic about it,” he recalled.OJ’s lawyer, Michael O’Donnell, said the group would not be using the money for any special purpose and would instead be using it to help registered charities.
“The grants will be used for general and administrative costs to help facilitate the operation of the state and the organization,” he wrote in an email.
“The state will make every effort to make these grants available to all registered charities that are eligible for them.”
The group’s plan is part of a broader effort by O’Ropes to open the doors of nonprofit registration to all.
OJ and his wife have been active in the effort since he was a high school student.
In 2009, O’Brien, a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, launched a foundation to promote awareness of and help raise funds for cancer research.
The couple also started a nonprofit foundation to support veterans.
The O’Briens’ charitable foundation also has helped register the nonprofit groups of the United Way of Berks County, the Pittsburgh Area Federation of Neighborhood Associations, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, the American Heart Association, the Philadelphia District School Board, and many others.
Oj’s attorney, O. Michael Grier, said his client is very much in the philanthropic arena, but he is not using any of his charitable foundation money to support the state registration effort.
Grier said he has received complaints from other charitable organizations that OJ’s foundation was “not transparent” about its funding.
“If this is not transparent, then the people who are funding this group and its operations should have to disclose who their donors are,” he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“This is an enormous problem.”
The state’s charities watchdog, the State Board of Charities, has said O’Reilly has been doing the bidding of donors by asking the public for donations.
In response, the board has sent letters to charities asking them to remove any “public benefit” advertisements that reference OJ or his foundation.
The board also told charities not to advertise on websites that include any of the OJ Foundation’s advertisements or on social media platforms, such as Twitter.
ORourke and OJ have said they do not know the identity of the organizations that are participating in the public benefit advertisements.
OBCSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.OJR said he will not be accepting any donations from the O’Brains Foundation, which has not responded to requests for comment from the Tribune-Record.