Who will receive Powell Jobs’ $ 3.5 billion gift for climate work?
Philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs is set to invest $ 3.5 billion in climate-focused initiatives over the next 10 years. But if his foundation’s donation patterns continue, the public may never know where that money is going.
A spokesperson for Powell Jobs’ company, Emerson Collective, said the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs would spend the funds through his charity, Waverley Street Foundation. Its board of directors includes members of the Powell Jobs family, including his son, Reed Jobs.
The announcement came late last month as donors pledged billions for conservation and other climate efforts in tandem with the United Nations General Assembly. Millions more were pledged last week ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, later this month.
Foundations are required to list the contributions they make on a Form 990 that they file with the IRS each year. But where Waverley Street, formerly known as the Emerson Collective Foundation, has directed most of its donations so far remains a mystery.
Between 2017 and 2019, the foundation contributed $ 185 million to a donor-advised fund, which is comparable to a charitable investment account. Donor Advised Funds, or DAF for short, allow donor anonymity – something Powell Jobs has long valued in his work. The foundation’s 990 for 2019, the last year with publicly available information, lists its only direct donation as a $ 50,000 donation to a California-based environmental nonprofit. It is not known where the other millions ended up, or even if they came out the door.
The Inside Philanthropy website first reported on Waverley’s contributions to DAF.
Critics have called for reforms to the DAF because accounts are not required to donate to charity in any given year, but allow donors to benefit from immediate tax deductions. (The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the DAF sponsor where Powell Jobs parked his contributions, says that if a donor has not recommended any grants after two years of donating, they will distribute the contributions through their own community fund.)
A spokesperson for Emerson Collective confirmed to The Associated Press that Waverley Street, which had $ 1.8 billion in assets in 2019, will end its work after 10 years. However, the spokesperson declined to say whether the foundation would continue to put its money into a DAF, which could allow it to retain advisory privileges on its contributions well after 10 years. The spokesperson also declined to say whether the foundation has distributed the $ 185 million it has already deposited in a DAF.
It is legal for private foundations to donate to CFOs in order to meet their required minimum annual payment rate of 5%. However, that could change if a Senate bill aimed at speeding up donations to CFOs – and preventing private foundations from meeting their payment rates by donating to those funds – is passed. The Ford Foundation, which recently elected Powell Jobs as a member of its board of directors, has supported similar DAF reform proposals.
Ray Madoff, a Boston College law professor who pushed Congress to act on the reforms, says the problem with CFOs goes far beyond Powell Jobs – the foundations of Google co-founder Larry Page and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, for example, made such donations. in the past.
“Private foundations are subject to rules so the public is supposed to be able to see what’s going on with that money,” Madoff said. “And when Congress allows people to avoid those rules by putting the money in that closed box of the donor advised fund, they are overturning the purpose of the disclosure rules.”
Powell Jobs, whose fortune exceeds $ 16 billion, according to Forbes, does much of his philanthropic work through Emerson Collective, a limited liability company, or LLC, which focuses on education, corporate reform. immigration, environmental causes and owns a controlling stake in The Atlantic magazine. .
Because it’s set up as an LLC, Emerson has no reporting requirements – like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan’s Chan Zuckerberg initiative and Melinda French Gates’ Pivotal Ventures. Wealthy philanthropists use LLCs because they give them the opportunity to contribute to political campaigns, invest in businesses, and make charitable donations using a single organization. However, transparency watchdogs are not fans, arguing that they allow donors to exert influence over a wide range of institutions with little public knowledge.
Emerson made headlines this month for his earlier investments in entities like Ozy Media – which recently closed after articles in the New York Times raised questions about his claims from millions of viewers and readers. . Emerson’s grants also came under scrutiny last year when a Colorado Sun report revealed the company used the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to secretly pass a donation to Colorado Governor Jared. Polis, which enabled him to hire a special adviser on immigrants and refugees.
“People who can be very influential have a lot more control over the messages and what they share about their grant making just by making that choice (to use LLCs),” said Sarah Reckhow, professor. at Michigan State University which specializes in education and philanthropy. “And that makes it a lot harder for people to independently watch what’s going on.”
Since 2000, Reckhow had tracked which organizations and school districts received funding from the largest K-12 donors to detect how donors might influence policy changes. She collected data every five years, but halted her research in 2015 as LLCs – like Zuckerberg and Emerson’s CZI – became larger donors.
“Without having represented them in the data I was trying to collect and analyze, it would be an extremely incomplete picture of what’s going on,” Reckhow said.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative now publicly lists its grants, but Emerson Collective does not. However, some outside observers believe that Powell Jobs’ quest for anonymity could be beneficial in his climate-focused work.
“In general, I always try to advise donors to be open and transparent about what they are trying to do and how they are trying to do it, but there are times when that may not make sense,” said Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.
“Sometimes you have to be realistic that there are organized interests (including political actors and those supported by the fossil fuel industry) that oppose you and your philanthropic strategy. you might not want to hand them your playbook, “he said.
The Emerson Collective spokesperson said the $ 3.5 billion Powell Jobs would invest would go towards “initiatives and ideas to help underserved communities most affected by climate change.” The efforts, they said, “will focus on housing, transport, food security and health.”
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