Augusta foundation gave grants to white nationalist Richard Spencer

An Augusta foundation said Tuesday it had severed ties with a white nationalist organization, but only after the foundation had unwittingly given the organization $25,000 in grants.

The Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area in Augusta came under fire Tuesday after the Los Angeles Times reported that the foundation had donated the money between 2013 and 2014 to white supremacist Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute nonprofit. Spencer’s organization has gained notoriety over its white separatist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic views, which the group amplified during last year’s presidential campaign. Spencer was a vocal supporter of then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Spencer’s organization supports itself through conferences and donations. Recently, however, it lost its tax-exempt status for failure to file tax returns. Prior to being stripped of that distinction by the Internal Revenue Service, Spencer’s group secured donations from the Augusta community foundation. On Tuesday, Shell Knox Berry, president and CEO of the foundation said in a statement that her organization did not know the intent of the National Policy Institute and that it severed any ties with the institute once its ideology became known to Berry’s foundation in 2015.

“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 to give any further comment.

A 27-year-old fund, Berry’s organization states its mission is to “encourage and promote philanthropy through education, responsible management of charitable contributions and the distribution of these funds.” The Augusta National Gold Club and the Masters Golf Tournament has been a major contributor to the Augusta foundation. Through 2007, the club and tournament gave $12.5 million to the Augusta foundation to be distributed to organizations in Georgia and South Carolina. Spencer’s group is headquartered in Montana.

The foundation’s donations only came to light after Spencer gave the Los Angeles Times three year’s worth of unpublished tax returns, the paper reported. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Berry said that the donations to the National Policy Institute came not from its “unrestricted fund” pool of grant money, which is what the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club’s donations go to support, but from a “donor-advised fund.” The donor-advised fund 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. A donor-advised fund provides anonymity to the original donor.

Berry would not say who donated the money that went to Spencer’s group. In an email response to an interview request from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 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 the Augusta philanthropy outfit had severed all ties with the 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.”

R. Lee Smith, Jr., former CEO of the Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area said the grants 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 100s 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 philanthropic group 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.

According to the Augusta foundation’s 990 filings, in 2013, it gave out $9.8 million in grants and in 2014, it distributed $5.8 million in grants.

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