Inside the Working Partnerships Political Money Machine

Working Partnerships USA, the labor-aligned charity and lobbying group headed by former San Jose vice mayor Cindy Chavez, yesterday released its most recent Internal Revenue Service Form 990, after eight days of refusing a request to view the document.

Working Partnerships communications director Jody Meacham stalled San Jose Inside’s multiple inquiries, saying, “GuideStar is the vehicle we use to disseminate this information to the public.” The website’s Working Partnerships page is still missing the Form 990 filing for 2011.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes accountability and transparency in the nonprofit community, however, took issue with Working Partnerships’ stonewalling. “Providing a 990 on request is the bare minimum,“ said GuideStar’s Lindsay Nichols. “They must send it to you, upon request, within a ‘reasonable amount of time,’ which is typically within a 24-hour time period.“

Finally, after saying he needed to meet with Chavez and the nonprofit’s auditor to make sure they were legally required to provide the documents, Meacham on Thursday emailed an attachment of the 2011 filing.

The public document shows that WPUSA revenues have declined from the early 2000s, when questions were first raised about its commingled relationship with the politically-active South Bay Labor Council, with whom it has shared offices and staff. During its peak in 2002, WPUSA had annual revenues of $3 million.

Revenues declined to $1.25 million in 2010, the year after Chavez took over as executive director. The 501c3 nonprofit rebounded in 2011, due to a half-million dollar increase in grants and a $373,290 jump in program revenue.

Out of its $1.9 million budget in 2011, WPUSA spent more than $1 million, or 56 percent, on compensation, benefits and taxes for the 27 people it employed.

Chavez received $74,587 in compensation and benefits for 15 hours of weekly time with WPUSA. She announced in December that she was going full time with Working Partnerships, which would place her total compensation around $200,000 if she is being paid at the same rate she was paid in 2011 for part-time work.

The organization also employs former San Jose budget director Bob Brownstein and county Democratic Party chair Steve Preminger.

WPUSA also paid out 25 percent of its budget for “research services“ ($469,145) and 9 percent on grants to individuals dislocated by the economy.

Non-profit 501c3 organizations are prohibited by law from supporting or opposing political candidates, but may engage in lobbying or support ballot measures. According to its website, “Working Partnerships was a key member of the Raise the Wage San Jose coalition for Measure D.” The 2012 measure passed and will raise San Jose’s minimum wage to $10 per hour in March.

WPUSA shares offices, staff and equipment with the South Bay Labor Council, which grooms and endorses candidates for political office and actively participates in election campaigns. SBLC traditionally has had a much smaller budget than WPUSA. A 2004 story in Metro documented hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from Working Partnerships to the South Bay Labor Council, which at that time had just one-quarter of the revenues as WPUSA.

According to its Form 990s, WPUSA paid $113,271 to SBLC in 2003 for “shared managerial, accounting, communications, and administrative costs.” and “office space sublease.” Another $50,000 was paid to Newport Avenue Group “an organization affiliated with a board member”—presumably WPUSA founder Amy Dean, who owned a large home on the Willow Glen street before moving to Chicago.

In 2004, WPUSA paid $94,842 to SBLC for “shared managerial, accounting, communications, and administrative costs.” and “office space sublease.” And in 2005, the amount was $133,803. Recent figures are not available because the nonprofit declines media interviews and no longer discloses the inter-organization payments on its federal filings.

In 2006, the year Cindy Chavez ran for mayor, WPUSA went deeply in the red. After building up a $1.9 million war chest, WPUSA exceeded its revenues by $651,504, spending $1.75 million, including $113,152 on consultants and contractors. $169,661 on “policy & research expense” and $130,219 on “advertising and promotion.”

Expenses dropped by $134,264 in the year following the election. Costs rose yearly after that as the next mayoral election approached, peaking at more than $2 million in mayoral election year 2010—despite WPUSA revenues of only $1.25 million—resulting in a loss of more than $800,000. Expenses once again dropped after the 2010 election ended, declining by more than $150,000. (The 2002 vote, in which Ron Gonzales was re-elected mayor and labor-aligned Terry Gregory’s victory sealed labor’s control of the San Jose City Council, also showed a pattern of heavy spending, followed by a post-election reduction.)

Working Partnerships’ funders include a Who’s Who of top foundations (click name to view each foundation’s website):

  •    Blue Shield of California Foundation
  •    California Wellness Foundation
  •    David Lucile & Packard Foundation
  •    French American Charitable Trust (FACT)
  •    Friedman Family Foundation
  •    Health Trust
  •    James Irvine Foundation
  •    Marguerite Casey Foundation
  •    McKay Foundation
  •    Mitchell Kapor Foundation
  •    Nathan Cummings Foundation
  •    New World Foundation
  •    Public Welfare Foundation
  •    San Francisco Foundation
  •    Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  •    Solidago Foundation
  •    Strategic Concepts in Organization and Policy Education
  •    Women’s Foundation of California

Non-profit organizations generally operate in a transparent fashion because their activities are taxpayer-subsidized through an Internal Revenue Service tax-exempt status. Taxpayers who give to a 501c3 may deduct any donations from their tax returns, which means the public is helping fund the organizations.

Links:

Working Partnerships 2011 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2010 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2009 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2008 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2007 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2006 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2005 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2004 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2003 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2002 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2001 Form 990
Working Partnerships 2000 Form 990
Working Partnerships 1999 Form 990
Working Partnerships 1998 Form 990

17 Comments

  1. If the mission, as it states above, includes charitable activity, there’s damn little going in that direction.

    “56 percent, on compensation, benefits and taxes for the 27 people it employed” and 25 percent of its budget for ‘research services.’“ 

    Those fellows dressed in white suits in front of Safeway likely tally a higher percentage going to charity!

    • Greg you said a mouthful.  Chavez at the helm exclusively now?  More devious corruption and their infamous creative funding to come.  One thing becomes increasingly clear about that entire camp of Campos, Chavez, Shirakawa, they have absolutely no shame when it comes to misusing, exploiting or outright fleecing of the public.

      Please keep it up SI and better yet, put Josh on it.  The work he’s done exposing Shirakawa proves he’s up to the task.

  2. If you look at their 2010 Form 990, there’s an entry in their Schedule D, Part X, Other Liabilities:

    “Federal Income Taxes”

    Later in Schedule D, Part XIV, Supplemental Information you have stuff that indicates that their 2007-2009 Federal filings and their 2006-2009 state filings are being disputed.  You should ask them about that.

    Also, regarding public disclosure, in Form 990, Part VI, Section C, Line 18, they’ve checked that they make their 990 available on request, and later in Schedule O, it reiterates, “The organization makes its governing documents, conflict of interest policy and financial statements available to the public upon request”.

  3. Good work, Mr. Newsroom.

    More, please.

    Dig! Dig! Dig!

    I took a stroll through Guidestar’s library of Form 990’s a number of years back trying to track the flow of funds from George Soros’ checkbooks to a sampling of non-profit nuisances.

    Bottom line:  Soros pushes a lot of money through the system and puts a little bit in a lot of supper dishes.  Not surprisingly, no one has a critical or unkind thing to say about Georgie —or his pet politicians and causes.

    When you realize how much non-profit funding originates with a small cabal of utopian ideologues, the non-profit universe looks more like a virtual political activist network than selfless, big-hearted altruism.

  4. Hmmm… $25 million seems a lot for a “think tank” that has only generated a handful of reports during its lifetime.
    http://www.wpusa.org/Publication/index.htm
    WPUSA needs to open its books and show what it’s been doing. Looks like Packard, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Margarite Casey and others have been pretty lax in monitoring how their funds are spent.

  5. Greg, San Jose Inside’s description of Working Partnerships USA in the opening paragraph of the story above is pretty vague.

    When we describe ourselves to the public and to funders, we say we are a think tank and action-oriented social change organization that equips everyday people to participate and win in developing a free and fair society. We focus on four primary areas of concern in these kinds of ways:

    1)  Health care. We helped develop the Children’s Health Initiative, which made Santa Clara County the first of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties to ensure health coverage to virtually all its children. Currently we are working on policies to combat obesity, the problem underlying our county’s most serious chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, reducing second-hand smoke exposure, implementing federal health reform and strengthening the county’s excellent safety net services.
    2)  Government accountability and reform. We work to make local government work for all the people it represents through such projects as our Community Budget Working Group. It trains people how to understand and analyze city budgets, develop alternatives based on their own values and priorities rather than accepting those proposed by government bureaucracy, and to effectively advocate for themselves at forums and meetings where budgets are decided. We do similar work to help neighborhood leaders participate on land-use and health care issues.
    3)  Leadership training. Similar to the issue-oriented training above, we offer an education and support program for community leaders called LeaderNet that includes leadership training and a continuing series of networking and educational events for alumni.
    4)  Economic research. Our best-known publication is the periodic Life in the Valley Economy (LIVE) report, which examines the state of Silicon Valley’s economy from the seldom-reported perspective of poor and middle class people who work in it, not from Wall Street’s view. Our most recent LIVE report last fall showed the Valley’s economic “recovery” is actually squeezing the middle class out of prosperity and cutting off the poor from ladders to economic health. Copies are downloadable from the link Lily Sereno provided above. While we have economic experts on our staff, we contract with additional experts when necessary.

    This is the work that we propose to our funders, report to them on and which improves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in our county. It is not charitable in the sense that we funnel money to poor people – that is, provide fish – but in the sense that we help people become fishermen so that they can achieve lives of satisfaction and prosperity.

    S Randall, we didn’t hide our most recent Form 990. It’s been on file for several months. It’s understandable that you would get the impression from this story that we tried to hide it. We told the reporter we had filed the report and had no contact from him for more than a week. When he called back to say the report was not yet online, he also made the claim that he had the right to come to our office and pick up a copy. Fair enough, but it’s not a wise practice for someone to take legal advice on his obligations from the same person making demands. Once I consulted Working Partnerships’ own authorities, the report was provided within 24 hours.

    • Jody,

      You’re welcome to provide your opinion on Working Partnerships’ mission, but your claim, “We told the reporter we had filed the report and had no contact from him for more than a week,” is complete fiction.

      You received written requests for information on Jan. 16, Jan. 18 and Jan. 22. This is in addition to several phone messages and conversations. I can post the emails if you like.

      And, just so we’re clear, here is the IRS rule on public inspection of documents: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p557/ch02.html#en_US_2011_publink1000199986

      Thanks for reading,

      JK

      • Keep at it Josh!  You are one of the few reporters that San Jose citizens can count on to do the actual investigative reporting that we need done on all these public officials and agencies.

        On another note I sure hope all these foundations/funding sources pay attention to the fact that well over HALF THE MONEY THEY FUND GOES TO OVERHEAD AND NOT DIRECT SERVICE.  That is a terrible statistic for any non-profit to have! Working Partnerships seems to be code for “employing ourselves”

        ( Blue Shield of California Foundation
          •  California Wellness Foundation
          •  David Lucile & Packard Foundation
          •  French American Charitable Trust (FACT)
          •  Friedman Family Foundation
          •  Health Trust
          •  James Irvine Foundation
          •  Marguerite Casey Foundation
          •  McKay Foundation
          •  Mitchell Kapor Foundation
          •  Nathan Cummings Foundation
          •  New World Foundation
          •  Public Welfare Foundation
          •  San Francisco Foundation
          •  Silicon Valley Community Foundation
          •  Solidago Foundation
          •  Strategic Concepts in Organization and Policy Education
          •  Women’s Foundation of California)

        • Aware D5,

          Thanks for the opportunity to clarify the point about salaries and, as you put it, “direct service.” The primary service that Working Partnerships provides is a trained staff with skills and expertise to do the work I described above. Our funders design their grant programs to pay for work that improves people’s lives. Please visit their websites and read about what they want to achieve with their grants. We propose work within their programs that we have resources to undertake, and we report our accomplishments. Working Partnerships is grateful for funders who share our wish to make the world a better place and are willing to invest their money in projects designed to accomplish that goal.

      • Josh,

        A string of emails to me when you were told that I was out of the office for a few days is not evidence that I was unresponsive to you. When we got back in touch a week after your first request and you said Working Partnerships was legally obligated to provide you with a document – whether or not it was posted online – I verified your claim and sent you the document.

        • Jody,

          I’m not sure what this “out of the office” stuff has to do with your comment about a lack of communication on our part from the time we first contacted you about the missing 2011 Form 990. In addition to several phone calls we had over the course of Jan. 16-24, which I did not record, we also had several emails.

          To set the record straight, below are the emails we sent and received with dates and times noted.

          Thanks for reading,

          JK

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 16
          12:34pm

          Hi Jody,

          I was on GuideStar this week looking at financials for various nonprofits in the area and I noticed that Working Partnerships’ Form 990 for 2011 wasn’t available. All the years preceding 2011 are there. Would you be able to provide that year’s 990 via email? If not, I’d be happy to come by your office if they’re only available in print copy form.

          Let me know what works best for you.

          Thanks,

          JK

          Josh Koehn
          News Editor
          Metro
          Office: (408) 200-1336
          Cell: (408) ———————
          Email: [email protected]

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 16
          12:49pm

          Let me check and I’ll get back to you.

          Jody

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 16
          1:21pm

          Thanks, Jody.

          JK

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 17
          2:06pm

          Josh,

          GuideStar has our 2011 Form 990. Why it doesn’t show up when I pull up Working Partnerships on the GuideStar site I can’t say, but it should show up soon.

          GuideStar is the vehicle we use to disseminate this information to the public.

          Jody

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 18
          12:57pm

          Hi Jody,

          Since it’s not available on the site can I come by early next week to take a look at your in-house 990 form for 2011?

          Thanks,

          JK

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 22
          1:45pm

          Hi Jody,

          We’ve been in touch with GuideStar and their people found no record of a 2011 Form 990 ever being turned in to their system from Working Partnershisps USA. Please cal me at my cell phone 408.—————— to discuss.

          Thanks,

          JK

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 24
          3:17pm

          Josh,

          I’ve attached a copy of our 2011 Form 990 to this email.

          Jody

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          JAN. 25
          9:34am

          Thanks, Jody.

          JK

    • I checked to verify Jody’s claim that “we didn’t hide our most recent Form 990. It’s been on file for several months.” Ahem, not true. Here’s the Guidestar link, and the latest report as of 1/29/13 is 2010.
      http://is.gd/2QjKGi
      And why would any organization have to check with its legal advisors to know whether to release a document that states prominently in the upper right corner of the first page that it’s “open to public inspection.” Sounds like your organization is wasting money on legal fees to avoid transparency. Why not open your books, provide 2012 data as well? How about a detailed financial breakdown, rather than just a Form 990, so the public can really understand all the great work that you’re doing? Subsidized, tax-free entities need to be fully accountable to the public that provides them with the privilege of accepting untaxed donations.

      • Lily,

        The absence of the 2011 Form 990 on GuideStar was what the reporter said prompted his contact with us. That is no secret. GuideStar obtains the forms from the Internal Revenue Service and, according to the reporter, there can be a two-month delay between our filing with the IRS and the form’s appearance on GuideStar. As I said in my original response, once the claim was made that we were obligated to provide a 990 without relying on GuideStar and I confirmed that claim, the form was provided promptly. I’m the person who was unaware of what the law was, not the “organization,” and that’s why I consulted our authorities on the subject.

    • Mr Meacham: 

      The four primary areas of concern you lay out as Working Partnership’s goals are Health Care, Government Accountability & Reform, Leadership Training & Economic Research.  The article states that 56% of WPUSA’s budget goes to salaries, 25% to undefined research and 9% to individual grants.  The article also points out a reoccurring pattern of peaks & dips in spending that correlates to WPUSA friendly candidate’s election cycles. 

      If one of WPUSA’s goals is actually Government Accountability & Reform then why the hedging when asked to disclose the information about how it spends its money?  Especially when WPUSA head honchos are so friendly with the habitually under-investigation Shirakawa and the like who have a history or questionable practices and accountability when it comes to public funds, why not take the road of full disclosure and transparency? 

      Surely you realize how it looks to the public and potential funders?  WPUSA isn’t a rookie non-profit, you share leadership, staff & facilities with one of the powerhouse SBLC so why the weeklong delay in providing the documents?  The dragging of feet always seems to indicate guilt or something-to-hide to the public.  Not very good positioning for WPUSA.

      • Aware D5

        I covered some of this in my response to you above. Working Partnerships was founded, in part, by the labor movement and we share its goal of making the lives of working families better. While we have always operated as an independent organization, as of Jan. 1 we no longer share leadership or offices with the SBLC. There are many factors that can cause variations in our spending, including elections, and election years are when policies we develop and work for, such as I described in my original post, are on the ballot or are being considered by government bodies.