(JTA) — A grant funneled through a Jewish federation to a group that was accused of funding the Capitol insurrection was an anomaly, said Eric Fingerhut, the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Fingerhut reached out to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to address the controversy engendered by an Intercept article last week that noted the $100,000 grant in 2017 to the Tea Party Patriots, a group that organizers of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection say helped fund the protest. Tea Party Patriots denies funding the protest.
The grant was sent by an individual donor via San Francisco’s Jewish federation. Fingerhut made it clear he saw the Tea Party Patriots donation as a mistake.
“No one’s saying that that grant was illegal, or that it didn’t follow the laws, but that’s not good enough for us,” he said. “We want to be at the highest possible standards of fulfilling the ethics and the spirit of the law.”
At stake are the future of donor-advised funds, a system of funding that allows philanthropists to give donations to the causes of their choice via their local Jewish federation. The system simplifies the giving process for donors, and the federations typically get a small percentage of each donation that goes out.
The federation system favors donor-advised funds as a means of engaging major philanthropists, and they are responsible for $1 billion a year in Jewish donor spending. The federation system also is likely to come under pressure from left-wing groups to redress a perceived imbalance; it has checks in place that ban funding for groups seen as anti-Israel, but until now, has no clear boundaries to giving on the political right.
The Tea Party Patriots has denied funding the rally, which sought to intimidate Congress into overturning Joe Biden’s election to the presidency, and condemned the violence that left five people dead. However, the group has taken a leading role in upholding Trump’s false claims that he won the election.
The San Francisco Jewish Community Federation said that it would monitor its donor-advised funds after the Intercept report. Groups that seek to overturn an election should not get Jewish federation money, Fingerhut said.
“We oppose any efforts to undermine [elections],” he said. “Certainly by violence, but also by undermining the integrity of the governmental systems and processes.”
He added, “There is absolutely a need for constant training, constant monitoring, constant updating of policies.”
Fingerhut also was concerned about the prospect that the revelations could result in new tax regulations that could inhibit donor-advised funds.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote last week to the Internal Revenue Service seeking answers to reports that tax-exempt groups helped fund the insurrection. Wyden, who is Jewish, in the letter does not propose new regulations, instead citing existing mechanisms that would have prevented funding for insurrectionist groups.
However, Wyden is set to assume the chairmanship of the tax-writing Finance Committee as Democrats retake the Senate, and Fingerhut was wary of further regulation that may be in the pike. “There’s no need for additional regulatory changes of any kind, of the rules that are in place.”
The Federations system sees the channeling of donations through donor-advised funds as a means of keeping philanthropists engaged with the Jewish community, even if the ultimate target of the funds are not Jewish causes. “The donor-advised funds are an extraordinarily important tool and component of the nonprofit resources that support our community,” he said. “We’re talking about on the order of a $1 billion a year.” The funds, he said, are critical in funding an array of Jewish causes, among them assistance for Holocaust survivors.
Federations have in recent years come under fire for allowing donor-advised funds to reach right-wing groups while determining that groups that do not explicitly accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state should not get funds.
This is not the first controversy affection the San Francisco federation. In 2018, it said it would no longer channel funds through a clearinghouse for pro-Israel right-wing causes, the Central Fund of Israel, after it was revealed that $100,000 in a fund managed by the San Francisco federation and routed through the CFI had reached Canary Mission, a secretive blacklist of students deemed to be anti-Israel.
The fund involved in that controversy was the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which was associated with the late billionaire, Sanford Diller, of San Francisco. Diller also gave the Tea Party Patriots $150,000 before his death in 2018, the Intercept reported. Another San Francisco area Tea Party Patriots backer around the same time, to the tune of $70,000, was Tad Taube, who is well known for promoting Jewish-Polish ties.
Taube Family Foundation lists Tea Party Patriots among its recent beneficiaries on its grantees page.
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for Taube said only, “The contribution was made in 2017. Mr. Taube does not condone violence.”