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Foundation For The Carolinas Reacts To Report That It Backs Anti-Immigration Group

Michael Marsicano, Foundation for the Carolinas CEO, speaking at the Foundation's annual lunch, Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
David Boraks

The Foundation for the Carolinas is coming under renewed scrutiny this week over donations to an anti-immigration group from one of the funds it manages. The foundation says its wealthy donors decide where to give, and it doesn't add any restrictions as long as the charities comply with federal law. 

This week, an investigative website called Sludge published a storyabout donations to the Center for Immigration Studies, which the Southern Poverty Law Center dubs an anti-immigrant hate group.  Over the past few years, as directed by one of its wealthy donors, the Foundation for the Carolinas cut checks totaling about $1.9 million to the group, which has ties to White House adviser Stephen Miller. 

It wasn't the first time those donations have been in the spotlight. But it was another black eye for the foundation. 

In 2017, WFAE spoke to the foundation's CEO Michael Marsicano after the Los Angeles Times reported on the issue. At the time, Marsicano said:  “There are folks, fund holders, who are quite conservative, and folks who are fund holders who are quite liberal. And sometimes those fund holders actually contradict each other with the grants that they make.”

[Related: How Foundation For The Carolinas Has Expanded Influence And Reached $2 Billion In Assets]

The foundation is not a single charitable fund, but a collection of funds totaling about $2.6 billion. It mainly provides investment and administrative services - for a fee - to funds set up by wealthy donors and nonprofits. They direct where the money goes.  Marsicano said the only restriction is that recipients must be an IRS approved charity.

"We think it's the IRS's role to make the decision of what groups are charitable and educational," Marsicano told WFAE's Steve Harrison in response to recent articles. "And we believe that community foundations are a big tent where donors from all different stripes and shapes and sizes and colors are going to fund different organizations with different purposes across the political spectrum, the social spectrum and the religious spectrum."

The foundation and others like it don't disclose which clients give money. But critics and news reports over the past several years have linked one donor - Fred Stanback of Salisbury - to support for anti-immigration and population control groups. 

The foundation does have money of its own to donate, and it's been known for supporting causes such as education, social services and affordable housing. Marsicano said critics often don't make it clear that there's a difference between grants directed by donors, and those from the foundation itself - which has never given its own funds to the group. He said the latest report is not fair.

"I do not think the article is fair at all. … In terms of trying to suggest that the foundation is supportive of alleged hate groups and somehow that means that we are connected to the president and his immigration policies is absurd," he said. 

Foundation spokesman Tim Hager says given the frequent criticism over donations like these, the foundation's board  has reviewed its policy several times in recent years. But, he said, the board sees donations "as a form of free speech, and they do not think it’s fair to layer the board’s own views on top of those of our donors." 

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.