71°Scattered Clouds

UPDATED: Bishop O’Connell Inadvertently Contributed to Kelly Campaign

by ARLnow.com — April 2, 2012 at 10:15 am 5,277 92 Comments

(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) On March 15, a year to the day after the all-Democrat Arlington County Board rejected a controversial plan to add lights to its football and baseball fields, Bishop O’Connell High School made a $350 contribution to the campaign of Republican County Board candidate Mark Kelly, according to public campaign contribution records.

In a statement issued late this afternoon, Michael J. Donohue, Director of Communications for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, said the donation was made by a school employee using school funds. The check was intended to be a donation from an individual, however, and not a donation on behalf of the school itself, according to Donohue.

The Diocese learned today that a member of the staff of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington County recently used a school check for the sake of convenience to purchase a set of tickets to a political fundraiser for a candidate for local office. This was a significant error in judgment on the part of the school employee as well as a clear violation of diocesan policy. Though all of the $350 in school funds were reimbursed by the employee, Chancery and school officials are presently reviewing the matter, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

One local Democratic official raised a red flag about the donation, which seemed like an unprecedented, symbolic gesture from the school, until the Diocese clarified the record.

“I’ve never seen this, a school giving a donation to a political candidate,” the official told ARLnow.com.

Donohue said Diocese policy specifically prohibits political donations, which would be a violation of the church’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

“Diocesan policy absolutely prohibits church entities to contributing to any political campaigns, either on behalf of or opposition to any candidate,” Donohue said. “That’s reflective of the IRS code.”

A Bishop O’Connell spokeswoman was reached via phone before this article was published, but declined to comment.

Kelly ended up losing the March 27 special election to Democrat Libby Garvey.

Image via Wikipedia

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  • WeiQiang

    … and, in an unrelated matter, the Arlington County Board voted on March 27 to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bishop O’Connell High School.

    • Salmon Ella

      That’s what I was thinking!

  • Novanglus

    Ooh, that’s a big problem. Either:
    - the school actually made the donation, which puts the diocese’s tax-exempt status at risk; or
    - someone used “Denis J. O’Connell High School” as a pseudonym, putting themselves at risk for fraud.

    • drax

      Yep, very likely a violation of tax-exempt status. It may require someone to file a complaint with the IRS before it takes any action though.

      Or it’s your option 2 – not really from the school, but from students or parents who pooled their money and should have reported it differently.

  • H Embrey

    Wow, a whopping $350. Big deal. Move on.

    • MC 703

      Breaking the rules is OK as long as you keep it under a respectable threshold. That’s why 7-11 doesn’t prosecute if you only steal hot dogs and gum.

      • Hungry

        Lunch today!

    • jackson

      The size of the donation makes no difference. It’s crystal clear:

      http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=122887,00.html

      “These organizations cannot endorse any candidates, make donations to their campaigns, engage in fund raising, distribute statements, or become involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate. Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition of section 501(c)(3).”

  • JH

    No one would care if the donation were made to a Democrat. Time put your politics aside and find some real news.

    • drax

      Sorry, you don’t get to just declare that nobody would care. Especially when it’s obvious that somebody would.

    • WeiQiang

      … and you base that contention on what, Trolly McTrollerstein?

      • drax

        It was extracted from the anterior region of his digestive tract.

    • BlueLoom

      I would care. The rules that keep tax-exempt organizations out of politics are sacrosanct, as far as I’m concerned. I’d feel the same way regardless of the party to which the money was contributed and regardless of the religion of the donor.

      I hope this is reported to the IRS and straightened out: was it the school itself? Or was it another donor signing in the name of the school without authorization to do so.

      • BallstonDweller

        Agreed. Rules are rules.

        They school could just clarify and there would be no speculation. Instead they chose not to comment.

        • Arlington, Northside

          Isn’t it Spring Break, are any of them at work today?

  • YTK

    Well, the money was Godly — it says on each bill “In God We Trust”
    Let’s see if DJO raises tuition to compensate for their loss.

  • Undereducated

    How is OConnell’s donation different from the $1000 donated by the Laborers International Union on NA, and the $150 donated by the Women’s Campaign Forum to Libby Garvey’s campaign? Other than being about two thirds less.

    • South Walter Reed

      I’m not an expert, but it’s all about how the organizations are incorporated under tax code. Laborers are probably a 501c6 (?) – which means they can play politics.
      Bishop O’Connell is a 501c3 charity. Donations are tax deductible and therefore cannot play politics without threatening tax status.

    • Larry

      There’s a lot of difference in terms of the tax code and election law. Tax exempt organizations cannot give money to political campaigns, they’re not even allowed to verbally endorse a specific candidate.

      The laborer’s money was almost certainly spent via their PAC and the Women’s Campaign Fund is a 501(c)(4) that uses their PAC to give to candidates. You cannot use 501(c)(3) monies for politics as it appears from this article that O’Connell has.

      • Undereducated

        It seems you support your response with speculation. What are the facts? From what arlnow published, I cant arrive at the conclusions that you have.

        • drax

          You asked.

          By all means, investigate further.

          • Undereducated

            It is a rhetorical question, I want to highlight the hypocrisy of this article.

          • Thes

            What’s hypocritical about the article?

          • Larry

            there’s nothing hypocritical about this article or the notion that this appears improper… perhaps you wrongly clump all these organizations into the same group? that’s on you.

            here’s an overview of the different types 501(c) organizations and regulations — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/501(c)_organization

            along w/ PACs
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_action_committee

            will give you a basic understanding…

          • Quoth the Raven

            True, but the key is that it “appears” improper. We still don’t know from whom the donation came. Thus it’s premature to assume anything.

          • drax

            No, it’s NOT a rhetorical question. It had a real answer, one that made it not the least bit hypocritical.

            My suggestion to you is not to ask rhetorical questions about things you don’t understand.

      • micksul

        Is the high school registered as a 501c.3?

    • Steamboat Willie

      Sometimes online usernames are revealing.

      • drax

        Yep!

  • FREDTERP

    What is Kendall Marshall’s comment on this. FREDTERP

  • Narlington

    I say good for them the County should have let them have the lights like every other public high school in the county. The School can’t give the Board the finger so a donation to the republican is the next best thing.

    Let them have lights!

    • CW

      Haha, interesting chain of logic. McDonalds gave me poor service, so I’m going to go steal from Burger King and lose my job! Makes perfect sense!!!

      • What!

        No I think he is saying you got poor service at McDonald’s so the next time you want a burger you went to burger king down the street. It makes sense to me, but then again I’m not stealing from burger king.

        • CW

          Hmm, except that, depending on who the money really came from and how it was reported, going to Burger King may or may not get their tax-exempt status revoked. It seems that more investigation and clarification is warranted.

  • ArlingtonNative

    With statements such as; “the symbolism of the donation seems clear” and “the donation was unprecedented in Arlington.” (based solely upon the opinion/experience of a single Arlington Democrat ‘official’) this is more of an Opinion piece in the guise of a “news” story.
    ArlNow – you could at least make a modest endeavor to separate your Editorial/Opinion pieces from your news material!

    • GetRealArl

      +1…..I immediately looked for a quote or a source for that sentence….I think that definitely seems like opinion. I’d love to know who/how this was brought…something you definitely have to dig for.

      • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

        The article makes clear that the quote from a Democratic official. We don’t reveal the identity of sources who ask not to be named. DJO was given an opportunity to comment on this article but has so far declined.

        • Quoth the Raven

          Was the line about the “symbolism” also from that same Democratic official, or is that merely opinion?

          Does anyone actually know if the donation came from officials at the school, or from some other source claiming a connection to the school? In other words, we don’t have the facts yet, so opinion as to the “symbolism” of the donation seems a bit premature.

        • GetRealArl

          I didn’t ask who the quote was from or anything about DJO commenting, that much was made clear in the article. What I take issue with was the sentence about “the symbolsm of the donation seems clear”. Either that needed to be attributed to a source (anonymous or not), or made clear that it was editorial opinion.

  • CarlosDePasqual

    So THAT’S where my indulgence went.

  • GC2

    Not to burst anyone’s self-righteous bubble about those evil conservatives, but it is very common for 501(c)(3)s to have a for-profit corporation as well – so money could have been contributed by the for profit side of the school.

    • RyanRecks

      Wait a second. You mean the certified internet IRS agents might not know what they are talking about? I am shocked.

      • drax

        The “certified internet IRS agents” haven’t said anything that isn’t true, and haven’t made any assertions beyond the facts they have.

        Nobody has said a word about “evil conservatives” either.

      • drax

        Oops, Ryan.

    • brif

      No, Catholic high schools (and O’Connell specifically) do not have for profit corporations.

  • Arlington, Northside

    Is this the Priests of O’Connell, the PTA, the Boosters, the school’s checking account? Not enough details, too much conjecture..

    • drax

      True – all we have is Kelly’s financial report. Which lists the contribution as coming from the school. We can’t be sure, but we were right to start with that, don’t you think?

      • Quoth the Raven

        While it’s certainly fine to question it, given the financial report, it seems awfully odd.

        1. The school knows the rules. Yes, folks make stupid decisions (government officials certainly do from time to time) but there is no doubt that the school knows what they can and can’t do.
        2. Everyone knows contributions are public, so it’s not as if they thought this donation could be “hidden”.
        3. It’s for a pretty small amount. For a school that large, shouldn’t the amount be bigger if it really came from school officials?
        4. Giving 350 to one guy is going to fix the light problem?
        5. The article is opinion masking as news. There is not a shred of evidence that the “symbolism” is “clear”. Arlnow just made that part up.

        • chalax

          I think you just gave a bunch of reasons why this is going to turn out to be a non-story, much to some people’s severe disappointment.

        • brif

          Roughly two hours ago you said we don’t have all the facts, now you have an awareness of what o’connell knows or doesn’t know? Since the school should not be involved in political contributions, it’s not at all clear that it knows the rules, what it can or can’t do, and whether their contribution would be public.

          • Quoth the Raven

            That’s just silly. Do you honestly believe that a school that’s been around for years doesn’t understand its own tax status?

          • brif

            individuals and entities make tax status mistakes (intentionally or otherwise) every day.

          • true dat

            Somebody will get a scolding. Somebody will be embarassed. And this will blow over.

  • jim

    Of course. Only this left wing blog would try to blow this up into a story.

    • drax

      Every blog that prints any news you don’t like is left wing though.

  • lebele

    The amount does not matter. The specific political party does not matter. It is a violation of the law exempting contributions to charitable organizations as tax deductible. A church or in this case a parochial school may contribute to non-partisan causes, but not to partisan candidates or parties.

    It is illegal. It is almost surely unprecedented in Arlington County. Most candidates or their treasurers would return the check undeposited with a thank you letter, knowing it is improper. This was a serious screw-up by someone at the school who should have known better. Also a major screw-up by the candidate to accept the funds.

    The contribution violates only federal IRS tax exemption laws for charities. It does not violate Virginia campaign finance law, which permits unlimited contributions from anyone or any organization.

    • Arlington, Northside

      Being this is a local campaign fund, and not a state or federal office, do all the same rules apply?

      • drax

        It’s an IRS problem. But the donation doesn’t violate Virginia law as far as I know.

    • Arlington, Northside

      Meaning, is this an IRS/tax problem, or is it a campaign finance law problem, or both?

      • lebele

        As initially reported, it was an IRS problem, but not in violation of Virginia campaign finance law.

        With the clarification on the ARLnow.com report in italics, that an employee inappropriately used a school check and reimbursed, and that the contribution was from the employee, there is probably no violation of any law. IF the employee made the contribution in their own name, and not from the school, and identified it as such on a contribution card at the event, then the only problem is the reporting to the county. It should have been reported as the employee’s contribution. That can be fixed with an amended campaign finance report.

        The school’s explanation now reported is a great relief. This could have been a serious legal issue making future contributions to the school non-tax deductible. It would have been a huge controversy that would have reflected poorly on all concerned.

        The Kelly campaign staff did show again the incompetence of the local Republican Party in recent years. If Kelly can’t handle such a simple matter, thank goodness he wasn’t elected to handle our money.

    • ArlingtonNative

      Since no one can firmly state exactly what entity the contribution came from all of your above statements as they relate to this incident are moot points.

  • Paco Wellington III

    Bored with this article lacking sufficient information. Best practices with campaigns is for the campaign to retain a copy of the donation check.

    What does the Kelly campaign have in its possession? A copy of a check? A mistake listing an expenditure as a contribution? A mistake listing an employer of a contributor rather than the contributor? An online donation by a jokester?

    Boring until more information is provided.

    • Paco Wellington III

      This non-story should have been fact checked before publishing. An individual made a personal donation. The end. There was no reason to rush the story. Remember the Bondi tax problems when ArlNow sat on the story for so long waiting for a Bondi statement?

  • MC

    Maybe Kelly should be accountable for not refusing the donation when it was a clear violation. I am sure given his theocratic leanings he thinks churches should be able to make political donations. And whether or not they make overt donations, tax exempt Catholic dioceses and their Bishops take partisan political positions in elections, as the current contraception issue shows.

    • Arlington, Northside

      It would not be a clear violation for him to accept the donation, it would just be a tax violation for the school. Maybe it would have been nice for him to confirm iwht the school that they intended to make the donation, but otherwise his campaign did nothing wrong.

  • Bender

    So what is with the FALSE updated headline??

    As was explained, the school did NOT “inadvertently contribute” the money — a staff member made the contribution personally and essentially misappropriated school funds to do it. That is a far cry from the school making a contribution, inadvertent or advertent.

    • drax

      Let’s see, left wing blog, nope, that one’s been used. Nobody would care if a Democrat got the money. Nope, taken. It’s no different than some other donations I found. No, that one’s been used too.

      • Burger

        You are embarrassing yourself in your drive to act as de facto county board and democrat blog police.

        What I think is concerning about the overall tone of this article and the blog in general is the opinion interspliced into what has been in the past a news blog. The last several months have seen a not soslow shift from reporting news in Arlington to a quasi-mouth piece for the Democrats in control in Arlington.

        If it is not being the leak for some unknown Democrat that took the time over the weekend to scan through Kelly’s campaign contributions in an attempt to embarrass Kelly or O’Connell, it is being the warning signal that the election numbers are down and that Democrats should go out and vote (Arlnow had to make this post twice). I would hate to see what would happen to Kelly if he had won.

        Arlnow is becoming more of a provider of Democrat and Arlington County Board puff pieces and contributions from paid sponsors than real news. And it is worse for it.

        • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

          Nothing is farther from the truth. But feel free to put your money where your mouth is and get your local news elsewhere.

          • Quoth the Raven

            While I’m not going to bother opining on what Arlnow is or is not turning into (b/c I like reading it and will continue to do so), the tenor of this particular article bothered me. Specifically, that the article discussed how clear the “symbolism” was. There were no facts to support that claim, yet it was stated as if it were actual news. And, as it turns out, it was completely false.

          • ArlingtonNative

            +100
            Exactly.
            If ArlNow wants to publish Opinion/Editorial content, that is entirely their right and business.
            However for the sake of maintianing some journalistic integrity, the opinion/editorial content and news content should be kept separate.
            In this instance, that was not the case.

          • GetRealArl

            I like ArlNow, I really do. I read it everyday (and will continue to do so)….but I agree that way too much opinion was interjected without knowing enough facts. I’m also a little surprised ArlNow would tell a reader to put their money where their mouth is and go somewhere else…

          • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

            Our reporting on this story was accurate. The school did make a financial contribution to the Kelly campaign. In the end, we learned that the contribution was made by an employee who perhaps did not intend to make the donation on behalf of the school.

            The use of the word symbolism was perhaps a poor choice, but the only intention was to emphasize the date on which the donation was made. The high school was given the opportunity to clear this up from the get-go, but declined. As a news organization, we will not be filibustered into killing a story because one side of the story does not want to cooperate. The fundamental fact here was clear: Bishop O’Connell contributed money to the Kelly campaign, and that’s what we reported. Luckily, the Diocese got on top of the story after seeing it published, and helped to clarify the record at 5:30 p.m.

            It seems ironic that those upset at what they see as us trying to assign motives to the donation are trying to assign motives to our reporting. A parochial school making a donation to a political campaign is a legitimate story. We will report any legitimate story, regardless of whether it’s unflattering to any side of the aisle. In this case the information came from a Democratic official, which we made clear from the beginning. But we’re not going to ignore a potential story just because it came from a political source.

            It’s very disappointing that those with a partisan ax to grind are trying to denigrate the work of two Arlington residents who are trying to make a living by reporting news of interest to the local community. Those individuals can go ahead and make up whatever fantasies they want about our motivations. The fact of the matter is our only motivation is to report news that is interesting and/or important to the Arlington community in an engaging way. If they don’t want to believe that, then they’re free to get their news from whatever source agrees with their particular political point of view.

          • drax

            Agree. Speculation on the intent was inappropriate.

        • drax

          Give it a rest, Burger.

        • CW

          And yet you probably think the Examiner’s weekly “Metro Employees Spent $5 at McDonalds” pieces are hard-hitting investigative journalism.

    • lebele

      The headline is NOT false. The official report to the county still shows that Bishop O’Connell High School contributed $350 to the Kelly campaign. It has still not been amended by the Kelly campaign.

      http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/voterregistration/campaigns/kelly031912.pdf

      • Bender

        The headline is false, lebele, as you yourself admit with your statement that the contribution did NOT come from the school, the school did not make any contributions, rather, “an employee inappropriately used a school check and reimbursed, and that the contribution was from the employee.”

        By now, this headline saying that the school made the contribution is an intentional falsehood.

        • WeiQiang

          Technically and legally, the transaction was between the school and the campaign. There was a form of legal tender (a school check) that was [presumably] deposited by the campaign. Whether intended or not by the school, someone used a legal instrument [assuming that the individual had the legal right to sign the check or get a legal signature on the check] from a tax-exempt organization to contribute to the Kelly campaign. The fact that the individual re-imbursed the school is not material to the transaction of which the school check was a part. The article title is correct if you remove the word “inadvertently”.

      • Neveah

        Personally, I find the diocese’s spin on this hard to believe. I’ve had some business dealings with O’Connell and found them to be pretty careful with financial controls. The idea of some rogue employee with check writing authority doesn’t ring true.

  • Holly

    Kinda a boring story now that we know it was just a mistake

    • Skeptical

      It’s only a “mistake” if you believe the diocesan spin on it. I don’t. Here’s my question: if the check was used to purchase a set of seats at the fundraiser that night, who were the people sitting in those seats? If the seats were filled with O’Connell administrators and board members, there is a very serious problem here.

  • Wait!

    Garvey got more than that from the development community. Review her reports and you can see the Vornado, Shooshan and others in the employment section.

    • tax guy

      It’s actually not Kelly’s problem at all, and yes, lots of organizations contribute far greater sums to political campaigns. The problem is that, as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, O’Connell must follow very strict financial guidelines and one of them is that they must never contribute to political campaigns.

      They are welcome to contribute to political campaigns if they forego their tax-exempt status.

  • Valerie

    Anyone using a school check for “convenience” needs to be audited. That’s how funds are embezzled.

    Since the school asked for reimbursement of funds, they knew the donation was illegal. And, it appears, have known for some time.

    The right way to make the situation whole is for O’Connell to have asked for a return of the $350, and the individual to have replaced that amount with their own personal check.

    • Arlington, Northside

      Exactly, the burden is/was on O’Connell, not on Kelly.

  • 1RLI

    Interesting, to me anyway, that Garvey received $12,964.22 in funds (and $269.07 in in-kind donations) from individuals/organizations outside of Arlington, to include $1,000 from the Laborers International Union of North America.

    Arlnow…you seem a bit sensitive and defensive. Get a thicker skin.

  • scoop

    It’s worth reporting a story that highlights a campaign contribution which, based on public filings, appears to be illegal. And the story had real results, even if if they weren’t the results anyone anticipated: O’Connell discovered that an employee improperly used the school checkbook and funds to make personal campaign donations, and took action to discipline the employee. The story’s newsworthiness is heightened by the fact that O’Connell was in conflict with the county. Bottom line: the school should thank Arlington NOW for shining a light on the actions of its employee, and we readers should be glad that there’s an outlet that can put a spotlight on some of this information, even if in the end, it was a rogue employee at the root of the problem (as far as we know).

    • Quoth the Raven

      At least from my standpoint, the issue with how this story was reported was not that it was/was not “news”, but that the original story confused and combined editorial commentary (which turned out to be entirely wrong) with actual facts. So yes, it’s good that arlnow published this story, yet the editorial commentary should have been omitted.

      • Quoth the Raven

        And one more thing – even though the story was “updated”, the headline is still wrong and misleading. The school did NOT “inadvertently contribute.” Some rogue employee did, by improperly using the school’s checkbook.

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