Iowa governor’s charity discloses donors, after IRS deadline
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A charity controlled by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has disclosed the names of donors who collectively gave $1 million toward 2015 events celebrating his time in office, two months after missing a deadline for doing so.
The filing reveals that 68 Iowa companies, lobbying groups or individuals gave $5,000 or more to pay for events celebrating Branstad’s inauguration to an unprecedented sixth term and, months later, to his becoming the nation’s longest-serving governor. The charity will use the proceeds for college scholarships and grants to promote Iowa history under Branstad’s name.
The largest donor was Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group, which gave $125,000. Other powerful Iowa companies dot the list, such as the Hy-Vee grocery store chain; the state’s two largest power companies, MidAmerican and Alliant; farm equipment maker John Deere; and gas station chains Casey’s and Kum & Go. Groups representing real estate agents, soda companies, nursing homes and bankers also chipped in, as did a number of casino interests.
The late filing could mean thousands of dollars in IRS late penalties for the charity, the Branstad-Reynolds Scholarship Fund, which has so far reported spending ten times as much on events celebrating Branstad as it has on scholarships.
The filing comes as the Republican governor prepares to resign to become U.S. Ambassador to China under President Donald Trump.
The Associated Press reported Jan. 2 that the charity, created in 2010 to raise money for Branstad’s inauguration to a fifth term, filed its 2015 tax return as required Nov. 15 after receiving the maximum six months in extensions. But the filing failed to list donors, as is required for foundations.
Tax experts said the lack of disclosure invited penalties of $100 per day retroactive to Nov. 15 because the IRS considers incomplete filings to be late. Foundations can try to avoid penalties by showing cause for failing to meet deadlines, but experts doubt the justification offered by Branstad’s group would qualify.
In the amended filing, the charity told the IRS that “certain records pertaining to contributors were unavailable” when the filing was due Nov. 15. “Those records have now been obtained,” the filing said, allowing it to disclose “a complete list of reportable contributors.”
The charity’s initial incomplete filing falsely reported that Principal had given $25,000 and listed no other donors.
Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes said the amended filing was mailed to the IRS last week. He disputes that it would be considered late, noting that taxpayers have three years to file amended returns, and said the group doesn’t expect penalties. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds serve as president and vice president of the charity.
Marcus Owens, former director of the IRS division overseeing nonprofit groups, said the incomplete filing would likely bring a fine and that the group may have more significant compliance issues that could threaten its tax-exempt status.
He noted that the IRS has held for decades that an organization formed to conduct inauguration activities is not operated for charitable purposes and that contributions to that entity are not tax-deductible. The fund has told the IRS that more than $400,000 it spent on 2011 inauguration activities was for “charitable purposes.”
Through 2015, the fund has reported awarding $97,500 in college scholarships while spending more than $1 million on operating and administrative expenses, mostly on the two inaugurals. Hammes said the fund has since awarded $40,000 more in scholarships, and that it was set up as a long-term endowment. It reported having $1.7 million in the bank.
The IRS declined to comment. A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, said that unlike many states, his office has limited jurisdiction over nonprofits and generally defers to the IRS for any enforcement action.
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