Newly released tax returns offer a look at the spending priorities, staff salaries and steadily growing coffers of the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Islands' largest philanthropic initiative.
The foundation closed 2015 with net assets of nearly $460 million — successfully soliciting some $45.6 million in grants and donations that year, according to its 2015 federal form 990.
This represents a dramatically upward trend of undisclosed mainland philanthropists parking money at HCF, where they are allowed to discretely engage in donor-advised giving. In 2011, HCF reported gifts, grants and contributions of nearly $16.7 million. That figure increased to $23.9 million in 2012, $27.7 million in 2013 , $30.5 million in 2014 to $45.6 million in 2015.
However, HCF cut the total amount of grants it awarded by $573,897 between 2014 and 2015.
Overall, HCF spent $13.8 million to award grants of $29.4 million in 2015.
In 2015, HCF spent some $6.7 million on salaries, up $266,447 from the previous year. Kelvin Taketa, HCF president and CEO, was paid $359,792 plus $149,129 in additional compensation from HCF and related organizations, for a total of $508,921. HCF's top 11 employees, including Taketa, received compensation totaling $2.3 million in 2015.
HCF spent $3.2 million on fundraising, $725,225 on conferences, conventions and meetings, $120,256 on advertising and promotions and $106,563 on travel.
The foundation's giving pattern also indicates a receptivity to funding organizations that talk about alternative approaches to farming, as opposed to actually advancing viable agriculture.
For example, it gave a whopping $476,670 to the Kohala Center — a Big Island group that reported income of $5.2 million in 2014, with little to show for it. The Center's School Garden Network is directed by anti-GMO activist Nancy Redfeather.
Malama Kauai, another do-nothing faux ag group, was awarded $100,000 by HCF — more than a third of the $274,846 the organization reported as income in 2015. The group spent $121,598 to deliver fruit and veggies to after-school programs and Kauai food banks, and $35,077 on its community garden and “food forest.” But what, pray tell, was the value of the food it actually produced?
Similarly, HCF gave $80,000 to the Center for Food Safety — ostensibly for “environmental” programs — while Gary Hooser's Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action was given a $52,500 grant for “public policy and advocacy.” Yet just today, Hooser published a Civil Beat column bemoaning HAPA's complete failure to advance any of its objectives in the state Legislature — while blaming lawmakers, of course.
HCF also gave $12,500 to the Kauai Community Cat Project (KCCP), which engaged in a vicious cyber-bullying campaign against former Kauai Humane Society Director Penny Cistaro and is now suing Kauai County to stymie its efforts to develop an ordinance aimed at controlling the island's feral cats. Furthermore, the KCCP spent $80,000 to manage just 510 cats.
And inexplicably, HCF gave $10,000 to SHAKA, which mounted an anti-GMO moratorium in Maui County that was later thrown out by the courts. Though SHAKA's 2015 tax return has not yet surfaced on Guidestar, its 2014 return showed income of $329,056. It ended that year with just $46,053, having spent $87,931 on “management,” another $84,243 on advertising and promotion and and $30,321 on legal fees.
Uh, so what, exactly, was the public charitable purpose that SHAKA provided with its money? And none of its funding sources were disclosed, either.
Why is HCF funding groups that are decidely opaque, and actively working to undermine agriculture and sow discord in Hawaii? Especially when its mission is “investing in community well-being” and “strengthening Hawaii's communities.”
Now compare the grants given to those self-serving groups with their very narrow agendas to the amounts awarded to organizations that serve a broad sector of the public: $116,295 to Aloha United Way; $62,000 to Big Brothers/Big Sisters; $78,600 to American Cancer Society; $85,403 to American Red Cross Hawaii Chapter; $50,000 to Polynesian Voyaging Society; $55,888 National Tropical Botanical Garden; $10,000 Hawaii Meth Project.
Something seems out of kilter here.
I do give HCF kudos for listing all of the grants it made. However, in the name of public interest and transparency, it would be even more revealing to see where it's getting the money that is being used to effect change in Hawaii, and what sort of strings the donors have attached.