Larry Elder, the GOP frontrunner in California’s recall election to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom, has long trumpeted a libertarian view of the ‘welfare state’ and its excesses, arguing that private charity is a better solution than government programs.
But the conservative radio host’s own nonprofit has raised little money and made no grants during the nearly two decades he has been active, according to a Times review on his statements. annual income.
From 1998 to 2014, Larry Elder Charities Inc. raised approximately $ 20,000, according to public income tax returns. He spent no money on any service except accounting, legal, and filing fees to keep the organization in good standing. The organization has been suspended by the state since 2015 for non-payment of application fees, according to a spokesperson for the Franchise Tax Board.
The IRS automatically revoked the charity’s tax-exempt status in 2018, three years after it stopped filling out the required paperwork, according to IRS records.
Questions about Elder’s abortive charity emerged as he led fundraisers and polls to succeed Democrat Newsom if he was recalled.
The foundation’s last tax return showed just under $ 15,000 in funds remaining. and charity experts have said Elder is ethically obligated to disclose whether the money was donated to other charities or nonprofits, as promised in the organization’s bylaws.
“$ 15,000 isn’t a lot of money in the nonprofit sector overall, but it’s a lot of money for people with unmet needs,” Laurie Styron said, Executive Director of CharityWatch, a national organization that monitors and evaluates charities for the public. .
A spokeswoman said Elder was not available for an interview.
His campaign did not respond to questions submitted by The Times about what happened with the charity or its remaining funds or did not report on how much Elder gave to charitable causes.
A campaign spokesperson said Elder “has donated to a number of different charities over the years, including Food for the Poor, Angel Tree Prison Fellowship, A Place Called Home and Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny”.
“Larry Elder has been a strong supporter of charitable giving and the many organizations that do it well,” wrote communications director Ying Ma in an email.
Ma criticized The Times for spending “significant resources on a small organization with a small amount of money that closed many years ago,” and said the paper should focus on “cronyism and corruption “of Newsom.
From natural disasters to Medicaid, Elder has long despised government as a weak solution that harms more than it helps. He argued that private groups, individuals and businesses are better suited to help the poor and provide disaster relief.
“Life is not fair. But it is unfair to assume that an America without a government-provided safety net would turn its back on the less fortunate,” Elder wrote in a 2017 column criticizing the Affordable Care Act. “Charity is in America’s DNA.”
His own nonprofit said in its mission statement that it would provide “(non-government solutions) to downtown problems.”
It is not known how much work Elder and the group’s board of directors have put into the success of the organization, and little is mentioned of it in public. In 2003, an ad in The Times mentioned a comedy stand-up at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena to raise money for the charity.
However, the charity has been used in short Elder biographies that appear occasionally and tout his philanthropic efforts, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame website, where Elder has a star. inlaid in his honor.
“Elder established the Larry Elder Charities, a non-profit organization that contributes to groups and individuals providing self-help, non-governmental solutions to issues of poverty, crime, bad parenting, addiction and education. “, we read in the biography.
One person listed as a board member on federal tax matters who did not want to be appointed for fear of reprisal said she could not even remember being on the board.
Another former board member, Jennifer Hardaway, said she remembers the charity, but said it didn’t seem like a priority in Elder’s office at her Hollywood Hills home. Hardaway also worked for Elder as an assistant for several years.
“As far as I remember, nobody was actively working on it,” said Hardaway. “It doesn’t mean that there was no work, I just don’t remember anything.”
Elder advocated for the abolition of the IRS and the dismantling of a host of other federal agencies.
He criticized food stamps as a government gift to people who misuse funds and spend money in places such as strip clubs, suggesting in a 2013 column that EBT cards be replaced by the private generosity.
“Is government social assistance – as opposed to non-government charity – the best way to help the needy and encourage self-reliance? Elder wrote.
What about Medicaid, the government program that helps the poor meet medical costs?
“What about private charity instead of Medicaid? Elder wrote in a 2009 column that also proposed eventually privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
It also cut the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides relief and rescue operations after natural disasters.
“Why the reluctance to trust private charity? Elder wrote in 2007, suggesting that companies like Home Depot and Walmart had done a better job than the government in meeting the needs of those devastated by Hurricane Katrina two years earlier.
Elder argued in 2009 against requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions: “What’s wrong with charities that help people? ”
As he wrote these words, his own charity languished. Her highest fundraising year was 2003 when she raised a total of $ 7,736.
Many nonprofit experts and local nonprofit leaders say Elder failed to understand the huge obstacles that charities would face in raising enough money to supplant government services.
“Larry, you refuted your theory,” said Noreen McClendon, executive director of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, which helps provide affordable housing and other services to low-income residents.
Even the country’s largest nonprofits lack sufficient resources to fully fund public services such as education and disaster relief, said Megan Francis, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington. .
“This pales in comparison to the amount of money local, state and national governments provide in terms of the necessary social services that all Americans need,” she said. “It is important that public and private charities have a role to play in our society and that they often play a role by working hand in hand with government, but they cannot replace government.
Francis noted that the public is often impressed by “reformer” candidates who perpetuate the idea that the government is too big and needs better controls. However, there is no real mechanism to hold private charities accountable, she said.
“The advantage of having so many social services provided by the government and not by private charities is that you can actually hold the government to account,” she said.
Jim Ferris, director of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at USC, said nonprofits are often formed because there is an unmet community need, either because of government failure or because of private industry to respond. Nonprofits filling government loopholes can be a solution to some societal problems. But often, it’s more of a “value-driven idea,” Ferris said.
“It’s a model that people resonate with,” he said.
Many leaders of nonprofits agreed with Elder’s assertion that private welfare organizations tend to be more nimble in responding to needs and avoiding the maze of bureaucracy and red tape. that can hamper government action.
But private fundraising is extremely difficult, often subject to the whims of wealthy donors and dependent on building extensive relationships and trust – a burden on any organization, experts said.
If anyone should have been able to start a successful, conservative charity, it should have been Elder, whose outspoken views struck a chord in Republican circles across the country, McClendon said.
“Why weren’t they donating to this guy?” He’s the perfect poster: he’s black and he doesn’t believe in a safety net. He had national recognition, ”McClendon said.
Times Librarian Cary Schneider contributed to this report