William Penn Foundation Flaunting IRS Rules?

delaware riverkeeper - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


The William Penn Foundation, a mega-rich private family foundation funding much of fractivism is, by all appearances, flaunting IRS rules on tax-exemption.

The Internal Revenue Service rules limit the political activities of charities, but there appear to be gross violations of those rules by organizations such as the William Penn Foundation and what are, for all practical purposes, its subsidiaries. The Haas family’s William Penn Foundation, in fact, in the guise of the Clean Air Council, the Delaware Riverkeeper and PennFuture, is directly engaged in lobbying Pennsylvania political activity at all levels today and no major media organization is willing to call them on it.

Perhaps that’s because the Foundation also funds WHYY and WITF, the two NPR stations who sponsor and help underwrite State Impact. Don’t expect the Philadelphia Inquirer to report on it either; David Haas, former chair and current board member of the William Penn Foundation just joined the board of Philadelphia Media Network, publisher of the Inquirer. We’re told he “has long had an interest in journalism.” Yes, of course.

David Haas serves, too, as the chair of Media Impact Funders “a network of funders, working broadly on media and technology issues, in order to create social change” where he coordinates with other major funders of fractivism and George Soros groups. Another Haas family enterprise, the Wynkote Foundation, funds it and David is an officer of that as well. And, that just scratches the surface. No wonder no reporter is willing to take on the William Penn Foundation.

william penn foundation

David Haas

The William Penn Foundation is a non-profit organization recognized as a charity under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, which means donations to it are tax-deductible. It is, moreover, classified as a private foundation, which means it is subject to greater scrutiny than other 501(c)3 entities with respect to limits on lobbying. Here’s how the IRS explains the lobbying restrictions that apply to all 501(c)3 groups:

In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).  A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure.  It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

These rules are not trivial. An organization given tax-emption under 501(c)3 can, as a charity, solicit donations that are then tax-deductible for those donating. If an organization is engaged in substantial lobbying, though, it’s considered political and, therefore, donations to it are not tax deductible for donors. Such an organization may, itself, still be exempt from taxation as a non-profit under Section 501(c)4 of the code but donations to it are not. Retaining charitable status, therefore, is hugely important for such a foundation and, especially, a private foundation. Again, here is the IRS guideline (from the IRS Publication 557:

In general, if a substantial part of the activities of your organization consists of carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, your organization’s exemption from federal income tax will be denied. However, a public charity (other than a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church or of a convention or association of churches, or a member of an affiliated group of organizations that includes a church, etc.) may avoid this result. Such a charity can elect to replace the substantial part of activities test with a limit defined in terms of expenditures for influencing legislation. Private foundations cannot make this election.

The importance of the distinction is this; there is no assumption lobbying below a certain percentage of spending is not substantial.  This is for good reason, as private foundations are tax dodges for hugely wealthy people who are then able to wield their tightly controlled entities as major forces in political debates or even for personal benefit in the case of the Clinton Foundation. All they need to do is demonstrate their supposed overall mission is not political in nature, but, of course, when one has $2.3 billion of sheltered money to work with and earns $163 million per year off it as the William Penn Foundation does, that isn’t very difficult. You can easily throw tens of millions of dollars of political influence around and still assert that isn’t your primary mission. Plus, it’s not that difficult to call much of anything charitable if you spin it correctly.

That’s precisely what the William Penn Foundation is doing. It is, by all appearances, flaunting the IRS rules in plain sight, all enabled by a subservient media and empire of undue influence among like-minded ruling class members.

We started to get into this in a post we filed back in March entitled “The Carpetbagging Delaware Riverkeeper.” We noted how two groups heavily dependent on the William Penn Foundation for funding – the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network – were acting in concert to torment municipal officials some 200 miles away, while the latter’s own charter says it’s supposed to be about; “restoring the Delaware River Watershed’s natural balance where it has been lost and ensuring its preservation where it still exists.”

We also observed how the Delaware Riverkeeper, in its 990 return for 2013, reported lobbying expenditures of a mere $2,304 for the year (see Schedule C, Part II-A) despite the fact “lobbying,” a/k/a “attempting to influence legislation,” not only includes doing so through “communication with any member or employee of a legislative body” but also by “effort to affect the opinions of the general public,” otherwise known as grass roots lobbying. We then posed these questions:

Does anyone familiar with the activities of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network think it’s done much of anything that wasn’t an attempt to influence legislation, particularly with respect to Act 13, which it fought viciously? Does anyone think their lawsuit against Middlesex Township in Butler County, 200 miles outside the Delaware River watershed is not “attempting to influence legislation”?

What we have learned since then renders these questions secondary, though still very important. The far bigger issue is the William Penn Foundation’s activities, which are arguably political enough as to warrant a revocation of its 501(c)3 status. We reviewed its 990 return for 2013 and took notice of this grant, which, by virtue of what we know these three organizations have done since, wasn’t about designing pipelines to mitigate impacts but, rather stopping them altogether.

William Penn Foundation

It clearly indicates the Foundation is funding a coordinated political campaign to influence legislation. They are doing much more than attempting to affect an administrative, executive or judicial decision, which they’d be allowed to do. They’re simultaneously trying to influence legislation as this excerpt from the Riverkeeper’s “Urgent Help Needed” page on its website demonstrates (notice the reference to pipelines and the urging of action to oppose legislation):

William Penn Foundation

Then, there’s this from EarthJustice:

William Penn Foundation

Then, there is this Clean Air Council appeal to Pennsylvania elected officials:

William Penn Foundation

Altogether, the William Penn Foundation gave $690,000 to these three groups in 2013 for this anti-pipeline collaboration, not to mention another $250,000 to the Sierra Club for “…advocacy…to prevent or limit shale gas development” and numerous grants to other fractivist entities such as PennFuture ($275,000 to get three top officials in the Wolf administration?) and PennEnvironment ($110,000). It also provided a whopping $880,000 to the Academy of Natural Sciences and $82,500 to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). Several grants, interestingly, specifically reference “advocacy,” which is the very definition of attempts to influence legislation.

It is these last two grants, combined with the appointment of a new director to the William Penn Foundation in the person of Carol Collier, former Executive Director of the DRBC, that raise the most serious questions. The full extent of the Foundation’s attempt to influence what is surely the equivalent of legislation was revealed in DRBC e-mails obtained by the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (Hat Tip: Curt Coccodrilli and Betty Sutliff) as part of a Freedom of Information request for records. Here are the two relevant e-mails (emphasis added):

From: Collier, Carol [mailto:Carol.Collier@drbc.state.nj.us]
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2012 9:35 AM
To: Johnson, Andrew
Subject: Request of changes to DRBC contract

Dear Andy,

Thank you so much for spending time with us on Friday afternoon. I thought the meeting went well, and we have a good idea of next steps. I’m anxious to hear more about the implementation of the new WPF Strategic Plan –sounds exciting!

I am writing you to ask if we can explore changing the conditions required to complete the project and gain approval for the third grant payment. The current conditions require that the DRBC natural gas regulations be approved by commissioners and that those regulations include requirements for 1) natural gas development plans and 2) creation of a Decision Support Tool to implement the regulations. Due to a number of circumstances, I believe the approval of DRBC natural gas regulations to be a ways in the future (there is no defined time frame at this point).

However, I believe there is value in completing the tool prior to regulation approval. As mentioned on Friday, we also would like to increase the percentage of staff labor and reduce the percentage to consultants.

As you know the natural gas regulatory process was stalled in November, 2011. Since that time the Commissioners have had technical discussions, but are not ready to move forward. The latest news from New York State of their decision to conduct a human health impact study makes the timeline even less certain.

From: Johnson, Andrew [mailto:ajohnson@williampennfoundation.org]
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 05:03 PM
To: Collier, Carol
Subject: please review ASAP!

Hi Carol‐

Here’s the modified payment condition we’re submitting to the WPF board. Unfortunately its got to go out to the board tomorrow morning (it took longer than anticipated to get through internal review here…which is why I’m sending it to you at the last minute). Let me know if you have any concerns but I’m hopeful it will be OK as‐is from your perspective. Based on our recent conversation, I’m confident that the workplan referenced in the new payment condition language will be fairly straightforward and not difficult for you to put together (ie, sounds like you’ve thought about these next steps sufficiently).

I’m sure you’ve had a challenging time re the hurricane….hope things are settling down.


Proposed Grant Payment Modification:

Third payment contingency as approved on February 6, 2012:

“Third payment conditioned upon 1) approval by DRBC commissioners of natural gas regulations that include requirements for natural gas development plans and creation of a GIS‐based decision support tool (DST), and 2) completion of the first phase of DST [development].

Proposed modification for third payment contingency:

“Third payment conditioned upon approval by the Foundation of a workplan describing 1) final development phase of the DST and 2) specific outreach and education efforts aimed at key stakeholders to increase access to and use of the tool and its underlying maps and planning processes.”

The William Penn Foundation, in other words, was not merely funding the DRBC (while also funding the Delaware Riverkeeper suing the agency) but demanding certain provisions in the DRBC gas drilling regulations, conditions it subsequently modified with intentionally vague substitution language, but retained.

This is the ultimate influence – control over the final product and it was exercised by a funder that, less than a year later, launched a broad political campaign intended to harass that agency and others with the goal of stopping pipelines and stopping natural gas development anywhere in the Delaware River Basin. The campaign is paying off and the Haas family and the Foundation continue to fund DRBC (see pages 3 and 23 of budget where the Foundation itself is identified as a “collaborator” and “watershed partner”). Not only that, but it has rewarded Carol Collier with appointment as one of its directors, while she conveniently secured new employment at its Academy of Natural Sciences.

That is who the William Penn Foundation is, the mega-rich private domain of a family that seeks, on a tax-exempt basis to control the levers of both government and media with the purpose of ultimately controlling the land. It is a nefarious enterprise and it shouldn’t be tax-exempt.

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11 thoughts on “William Penn Foundation Flaunting IRS Rules?

  1. God BLESS Mr Shepstone and Lou Coccodrilli, US Soldiers ——- without uniforms.

    Is anyone watching Fox News/ analyzing Vladmir Putins intentions?

    Its time to sell discount gas/ to europe.

  2. PRES. Oboma wants to help fast trac a energy grid! Too bad big transport companies cant work out a deal ? North-South ,East -west . Time is running out on that one.

  3. In another of the FOIA requests that we obtained, Carol Collier enlisted the help of Maya of Delaware Riverkeeper Network to lobby congressional members and the eight basin senators for funding. Here are the exact words from the exchange they had: It would be greatly appreciated if you
    would reach out to any of the congressional members from our Basin on our behalf. On the Senate side all eight basin senators have expressed interest, but could use a little prodding. You know with whom you have the best rapport.

    What a tangled web!

  4. The misguided strategy of this shadowy, highly partisan group of scofflaws, is to push their twisted version of environmental extremism by greasing the palms of greedy politicians. They’re all casualties of the Sylindra debacle and lost their rear ends in the process. Now their game plan is to vilify natural gas, and glorify solar panels again, hoping for another bite of the apple. This misguided group of New York City hi-rise dwellers are all heating their mansions and apartments with natural gas, not solar panels. None of them are farmers or landowners. Neither do they have any concept of the millions and millions of trees that will have to be felled to give way for their solar power nightmare. Good job of pulling down their pants Tom.

    • Right on Philip! They make bad decisions we pay.
      And karen, maybe if you get the time watch OIL and WATER on public television. Then you might understand my opinion on NG imports from S. America?
      The greenies rate building material on sustainability and the envirnment why not do the same with energy?
      They also advocate (keep it local) so maybe we have a nuetral ground conversation starter with the envirnmentolists?
      Without them the solar and wind promoters will have to hawk their own Chinese wares!
      And a side note to all you envirnmentolists, The useful
      idiot labol came from your funders not the pro US energy people!
      Kinda like frackers and carbon breathers ,They have no respect for any of us on either side.
      Like the saying goes, They are like Watermelons ,they are green on the outside and red in the middle! And Pure greed throughout!

      Keren ,they have their eyes on pipelines now so I hope they dont break your heart after all you have been through fighting
      for them?
      Though I disagree with your position on the pipe issue I admire your determination!
      And –
      Be N. American Buy N.American energy!

  5. Very interesting. http://www.newsleader.com/story/news/local/2015/05/20/dominionfiles-responses–pipeline-questions–ferc/27225423/

    “RICHMOND—Quicker than you can say Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion dropped 5,400 pages of reports on the Federal Regulatory Commission’s desk Tuesday evening for the agency and “PUBLIC” to ponder.” said the reporter.


    “Be transparent about the location, scope, and plans of each project.” says Earthworks and amazingly there is an embedded video which features something called the You areHere map. This is a map created by the Sane Energy project which interestingly enough could not grasp “the location, scope and plans” for even one project–the rockaway lateral pipeline project.

    http://atlantic2.sierraclub.org/content/deepwater-port-li-would-boost-regional-fracking Here for instance, the PUBLIC, which might be under the impression that the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter would be a valid source for some environmental information, can learn that “the Deepwater port on LI would boost regional fracking”. The application and material in the public docket on that proposed LNG import project is much more than 5400 pages at this point and it basically says the COMPLETE OPPOSITE.

    Somehow I think the PUBLIC is not the greatest concern for at least some of the players in this tangled web even though they claim to speak for impacted communities or even the people in general.

    https://twitter.com/DCMediaGroup There will be news from “the people’s perspective” of the popular movement against FERC and their demonstrations.

    One superinteresting report from “the people’s perspective” which includes some interesting or rather creative info on the rockaway pipeline project and port ambrose.


    It would appear that “the people”–let’s call them the public– are confused and they are also being deliberately confused.

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