Gavin Newsom Debates Disclosure on his own 501(c)(4)

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March 23, 2011; Source: Beyond Chron | BeyondChron has reprinted controversial news about Gavin Newsom's 501(c)(4) nonprofit, first reported by CitiReport. Apparently, the former San Francisco mayor, now Lt. Governor of California, is a bit reluctant to release more than the minimum information required about his 501(c)(4).

In September 2010, before the elections, then candidate Newsom created a 501(c)(4) to support "community and neighborhood development." The neighborhood in question appears to be the state capital, as the fund is officially the "2010 Lieutenant Governor Inaugural Fund," known more familiarly as the "Lieutenant Governor's Host Committee."

As all NPQ readers know, 501(c)(4)s do not have to disclose their donors or their expenditures, but California state law requires contributions of $5,000 or more to any committee (including any 501(c)(4)) controlled by the Lt. Gov.'s nonprofit. The inauguration may be one of the costs, though one suspects that the inauguration of Governor Jerry Brown is more significant than the inauguration of the governor's second-in-command.

In this case, Newsom's (c)(4) appears to be a mechanism that fits something he negotiated on his way out of City Hall. Just before a December 31 deadline, then-Mayor Newsome negotiated a deal to make San Francisco the host of the America's Cup yacht race. Shortly thereafter, the America's Cup named Newsom its first-ever "Ambassador at Large," in a deal that requires Newsom to help the America's Cup in "attracting and welcoming visitors."

Although Newsom's office is complying with requirements to reveal large donations to the committee, state law doesn't require disclosure of expenditures, including whether Newsom will get paid a stipend, staff or office costs, etc. The America's Cup deal has sparked an investigation due to last minute material changes Newsom personally made on the deal that had been approved with the regatta organizers, costing the city revenues that had been in the original deal (PDF).

As mayor, Newsom was perhaps the nation's foremost advocate of transparency and disclosure, even making his own cell phone records public. But for this committee, which apparently has functional connections to his America's Cup role, the Lt. Gov.'s office is offering nothing, telling CitiReport, "The information you seek pertains entirely to Lieutenant Governor Newsom's personal activities with the America's Cup, and it is unrelated to his official duties as Lieutenant Governor."

Why is it that when politicians control 501(c) organizations, their commitment to higher standards of disclosure and transparency becomes hard to find?—Rick Cohen