Editor’s note: The state Attorney General’s Office has called for an independent audit of the Bellosguardo Foundation for its last three tax years after the nonprofit’s failure to complete financial records with the state Registry of Charitable Trusts. The Attorney General’s Office gave the foundation until Nov. 29 to complete the audit. Stay tuned to the News-Press for updates on that. In the meantime, columnist Robert Eringer has raised another question concerning the foundation.
When then Mayor Helene Schneider and Jeremy Lindaman began the process of selecting trustees for Bellosguardo’s board of directors, The Investigator has learned, they appear to have been soliciting financial contributions for Ms. Schneider’s 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.
One prospective trustee told us: “The first people to be invited to the board of directors were people who would also be asked to donate to Helene’s congressional campaign. She probably thought we would feel obligated to help fund her campaign. It was never stated but I felt implied we should feel compelled to give her a donation for her campaign.”
This may prove to be a huge problem for Jeremy Lindaman, who managed Ms. Schneider’s congressional campaign and was appointed by her — despite his total lack of foundation experience — to be president of the Bellosguardo Foundation at an annual salary now reaching $150,000.
Why might this be a huge problem?
Because the IRS specifically prohibits campaign solicitations in connection with a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit.
About such an entity, IRS regulations are very clear: “It may not be an action organization i.e. it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
Soliciting campaign donations in the same breath as holding out trustee positions would be a direct violation of strict IRS rules forbidding such use of a 501(c)(3).
With this in mind, we then cross-checked the list of political contributors to Ms. Schneider’s 2016 campaign with Bellosguardo’s board of directors. We discovered that no fewer than nine of the 14 listed trustees (“as of 2019”) made financial contributions to the Schneider campaign during the 2016 election cycle, including board chairman Dick Wolf, who was one of Ms. Schneider’s largest donors, weighing in at $9,100. (Mr. Wolf, who lives in Montecito, is well-known as the creator of the “Law & Order” and “FBI” TV franchises.)
Add Ann Towbes, who has since resigned her trusteeship (she donated $2,700) and Morris Jurkowitz (also resigned, but donated $2,000) and that means 11 of 16 or an astounding two-thirds of the board contributed to the Schneider campaign — a further indication that prospective board members may have been impelled to contribute to her congressional campaign as an “implied” condition for being selected to the board.
The Investigator reached out to both Mr. Lindaman and Ms. Schneider to ask how it was possible that so many trustees happened to contribute to the Schneider campaign as managed by Mr. Lindaman during the period when potential trustees were being consulted, cultivated and decided upon.
In an email, Ms. Schneider responded thus: “During my 2016 congressional campaign, I received contributions from several hundred individuals. Many of these individuals also gave to other candidates in the same campaign, including members who also happened to serve on the Bellosguardo Board of Directors. Of the 19 people who were on the Bellosguardo Board of Directors at that time, 3 contributed solely to my campaign, and the others either made no contributions, or contributed to both me and other candidates simultaneously, or contributed solely to my opponents. The breakdown per FEC reports are: 7 contributed to me and Salud Carbajal; 1 contributed to me, Salud Carbajal and Justin Fareed; 1 gave only to Justin Fareed; 1 gave only to Salud Carbajal; 1 gave to me and Justin Fareed; 1 gave to Salud Carbajal and Justin Fareed, and 4 made no campaign contributions.”
We received no response from Mr. Lindaman.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.