Steuart Street entrance to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. (Photo/From file)
Steuart Street entrance to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. (Photo/From file)

Donation to right-wing group is ‘old news,’ says S.F. Federation

A recent story by JTA about a large donation to a right-wing organization facilitated by the S.F.-based Jewish Federation was misleading and is “old news,” according to Federation leadership.

JTA picked up the story from a Jan. 13 piece in the Intercept, which reported that in 2017, the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund had directed $100,000 from a donor-advised fund to the Tea Party Patriots Foundation.

According to the Intercept, the Tea Party Patriots Foundation was “one of the groups that helped organize the Jan. 6 rally preceding the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.” The foundation, which denies the charge, was one of several right-wing groups listed on the website of March to Save America, a main promoter of the rally.

The JTA story said the issue “underscores the challenges associated with the increasing use of donor-advised funds, where people route their charitable giving through Jewish federations,” and implied that the S.F. Federation would now start vetting potential grantees for extremist, right-wing views. But Federation CEO Danny Grossman told J., “This is not new. We’ve been doing this for years. The mechanisms we have are functioning.”

Grossman confirmed that the donation in question was indeed made four years ago, but noted it was when the Federation was undertaking a wholesale review of its philanthropic vehicles — including donor-advised funds and supporting foundations — to ensure they complied with the guidelines for giving. That process has since been completed.

A donor-advised fund, according to the Federation’s website, “is a tax-efficient way for grantmaking” in which the donor “may recommend grants to a full range of charitable organizations in the Jewish and general communities.” There is no pre-set list of approved organizations.

One Federation guideline explicitly forbids donations to organizations that promote violence, Grossman said, and an insurrection is by definition violent.  He declined to say whether a donor recommendation to send funds to the Tea Party Patriots would pass muster with the Federation today, explaining that any such request would go through an established review process.

“If [the organization] were found to have participated in the protest at the Capitol, and supported insurrection, it would explicitly violate our guidelines and we would not fund them,” he said.

The S.F.-based Federation — whose service area covers all or parts of nine counties in the Greater Bay Area —  is one of the only Jewish federations nationwide with written, public guidelines for donations it controls. The guidelines were adopted in 2010 in the wake of controversy surrounding its financial support for the S.F. Jewish Film Festival, which had screened a film about Rachel Corrie, a young American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza.

The Federation later came under fire for donations it had approved to right-wing organizations working primarily in Israel. One, the Central Fund for Israel, was identified in a 2018 Forward investigation as a New York–based charity that allowed Americans to funnel tax-free money to right-wing groups in Israel.

The Forward reported that the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which is a supporting foundation of the Federation, donated $100,000 to the Central Fund for Israel in 2016 and earmarked it for Canary Mission, a secretive website that publicizes the names and biographies of individuals it says engage in anti-Israel activities. 

The Federation recently updated its strategic plan and is now reviewing and making changes to its operations and process to achieve that plan, said Kerry Philp, senior director for strategic marketing and communications. Funding guidelines will be a part of that review,

But the violence at the U.S. Capitol was not the impetus for that process, Philp said.  “Prior to Jan. 6, we have been discussing the need to revisit those guidelines,” she told J. “Not as a result of what transpired on Jan. 6. But because a lot has changed since they were initially written.”

In 2019, according to its most recent report, the Federation facilitated 10,050 grants from donor-advised funds and supporting foundations, totaling $175.1 million. All of this information is posted on the Federation’s website, and is “easily searchable,” Philp said. “We want to be transparent.”

Nationwide, donor-advised funds affiliated with Jewish federations give away some $1 billion per year, according to the Jewish Federations of North America.

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J. She can be reached at sue@jweekly.com.