June 25, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times|

Remember the criticism that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attracted for his use of nonprofit foundations such as the California State Protocol Foundation?  The privately capitalized foundation paid for a variety of expenses that would have been somewhat improper to charge to the bankrupt state for both the Governor as his associates such as luxury trips around the world and nights at international hotel hotspots.  His successor, the no-frill Jerry Brown, would undoubtedly never do the same, because the problem isn’t just the uses of foundation dollars, but the access and influence that might accrue to the foundation donors who help pay for what can’t be charged to the state treasury. 

Now comes news that Governor Brown has replaced Schwarzenegger’s people at the California State Protocol Foundation with his own.  The Governor’s Office promised, however, to reveal the names of all donors, unlike the practice under Governor Schwarzenegger (and, for that matter, former Governor Gray Davis).    

Another nonprofit—the Governor’s Residence Foundation–is going to pay for Brown’s the rent and utilities at the Governor’s Sacramento loft..  The state would have made $35,000 available to offset his living costs, but Brown is going to have private donors pay that tab.  Both the Residence Foundation and the Protocol Foundation will be run by the same person, one George Kieffer.  At the moment, current or prospective donors to the Residence Foundation appear reluctant to be identified, though Kieffer says that all will be identified by January 2012.

NPQ Newswire readers might recognize some of the names on the Protocol Foundation’s board, including Antonia Hernandez, CEO of the California Community Foundation and at various times a board member of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and Stewart Kwoh, president of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and a history of board service to foundations and nonprofits such as the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, PolicyLink, and Southern California Public Radio.  The expectation is that experienced nonprofit and foundation hands such as Hernandez and Kwoh will help ensure the accountability of the Protocol Foundation’s operations. 

No offense to the widely admired Hernandez and Kwoh, but foundations serving the off-budget needs of governors or legislators are a recipe for trouble.  When big power brokers give to political foundations, you can just about be assured that they want something in return—influence, access, face time. —Rick Cohen