Turns out, tax-funded anti-poverty groups pay their CEOs huge salaries

dcnf-2-1By Ethan Barton, DCNF

Top officials with 14 anti-poverty nonprofits were paid as much as $869,900 as their organizations were enriched with $900 million of taxpayer money, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s (TheDCNF) Investigative Group has found.

The activist groups received as much as 85 percent of their revenue from federal, state and local governments and collectively spent millions on lobbying, TheDCNF’s analysis found. Also, half of the charities’ CEOs made political contributions – nearly all of which was to Democratic candidates.

Charts: TheDCNF/Ethan Barton

The groups pursue various activist causes, but each participates in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Approved Counseling Agencies program, which pays nonprofits across the country to help people “find housing, make more informed housing choices, or keep their current homes,” according to HUD.

HUD awarded at least $42 million to 204 such groups in 2016, which was predicted to assist more than 1.4 million households, agency data shows.

The department even has a step-by-step guide that shows organizations how to become a nonprofit and ultimately a counseling agency. HUD considers the charities’ prior performance when vetting their applications for the grants, which includes the number of impacted clients, past budgets and how grant money was spent previously.

At least 14 recipients appear to be national-level activist groups and have raked in $916 million across government from 2013 through 2015, TheDCNF’s analysis found.

Chart: TheDCNF/Ethan Barton

Those organizations paid their top leaders more than $341,00 on average in 2015, according to their IRS Form 990 tax forms, which is nearly 14 times the annual income for a four-person family at the federal government’s official poverty line. Meanwhile, almost half of the revenue the groups received came from the government on average between 2013 and 2015.

Six of the nonprofits spent a total of nearly $3.2 million on lobbying during those three years. Additionally, seven of the charities’ CEOs contributed nearly $44,000 to Democrats since 2008 and only contributed to one Republican candidate during the same time.

Charts: TheDCNF/Ethan Barton

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial , a former New Orleans mayor, received a higher salary than any other official in the nonprofits, taking home nearly $870,000 – more than 35 times the poverty line for a four-person family – in 2015.

Morial’s “energetic and skilled leadership has expanded the league’s work around an empowerment agenda … with a renewed emphasis on closing the economic gaps between whites and blacks, as well as rich and poor Americans,” according to the Urban League’s website.

He also contributed the second most to political candidates – $10,400, all to Democrats since 2008, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The nonprofit’s information page adds: “The mission of the Urban League movement is to enable African-Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.”

More than one-third – or nearly $55 million – of Urban League’s total revenue came from the government.

Operation HOPE chairman, founder and CEO John Bryant received the second highest salary – nearly $542,000 in 2015 – and has donated $2,750 to Democrats since 2008.

“Eighty-one cents of every dollar raised by Operation HOPE is directed to help clients and create impact in economically challenged communities,” Chief Operating Officer Dave Matthews told TheDCNF, noting his nonprofit’s four-star rating with Charity Navigator. “Almost 90 percent of HOPE’s funding is contributed by the private sector, specifically financial institutions.”

Likewise, TheDCNF found that 14 percent of Operation HOPE’s funding comes from the government. The group received nearly $3.8 million of public money, the second least among the nonprofits analyzed.

NeighborWorks America received the biggest grant from HUD among the counseling agencies in 2016 with $3 million, HUD data shows. But that figure is minimal compared to the total funding the nonprofit has received from all federal and local governments.

NeighborWorks raked in nearly $613 million in government funding between 2013 and 2015, accounting for more than 85 percent of its total revenue, tax forms show. The group received significantly more public funding than any other group TheDCNF analyzed in terms of both dollars and as a share of its revenue.

The National Council On Aging – a liberal activist group for senior citizens – received the second most public money over the three-year period, taking nearly $99 million – or 79 percent of its total revenue, tax forms show. The group spent more than $35,00 on lobbying during that time and president and CEO James Firman has donated $3,800 to Democrats since 2008.

The National Council of La Raza, a liberal Hispanic activist group recently renamed Unidos US, spent significantly more on lobbying — $1.3 million between 2013 and 2015 — than any other group analyzed by TheDCNF.

Charts: TheDCNF/Ethan Barton

Additionally, Unidos US President and CEO Janet Murguia was paid nearly $460,000 in 2015. She has contributed $14,800 to Democrats since 2008, served in President Bill Clinton’s White House, and is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. Her political contributions exceeded those of all other CEOs TheDCNF analyzed, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Murguia donated $1,500 to one Republican candidate during those years.

Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) Spokeswoman Julia Helmreich explained how her group received its funding.

RCAC was successful in competing for a HUD Housing Counseling training contract based on its expertise, excellent housing counseling staff, the positive outcomes of families that have achieved homeownership and the cost effectiveness of our proposed work plan,” she told TheDCNF. “No federal funds were used for lobbying. RCAC focuses its lobbying efforts to secure resources for low-income rural communities.”

The organization spent the third-most on lobbying among the 14 charities – more than $529,000 between 2013 and 2015. RCAC also received nearly 78 percent of its revenue during those years from taxpayers.

The Housing Partnership Network received about one-fifth of its funding from the government and paid CEO Thomas Bledsoe nearly $450,000 in 2015.

The group distributed $5.6 million to its network members from 2013 and 2015 and “served 107,058 households,” Housing Partnership Network Spokeswoman Liza Dube said. The group kept an average of 15 percent of its federally-funded housing counseling grants for administrative and oversight purposes.

TheDCNF was unable to analyze one group, The National Association of Real Estate Brokers Investment Division. TheDCNF could not find tax forms for the the division, which is an affiliate of the national association and apparently files its 990s separately.

TheDCNF selected the other groups by combing through HUD’s list of approved counseling agencies and selecting only national organizations that appeared to advocate on behalf of specific communities, such as minorities, seniors, the homeless and impoverished.

Neither HUD nor any of the remaining groups responded to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

Follow Ethan and Jennifer on Twitter.

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