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Tax Records Paint Troubled Picture of Nicole Brown Charity

Giving: Fund named for slain ex-wife of O.J. Simpson has watched dwindling donations be eaten up by office rent and salaries. Cutbacks have failed to revive a grant program.

November 04, 1999|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation, founded in 1994 to help battered women, has radically cut back its donations to charity the last two years--giving a total of $5,630--while spending $174,282 on staff salaries and rent, tax records show.

The foundation has raised about $800,000 since 1994, but in the last two years, it received a total of only about $147,000.

"We've granted out money. Maybe it's not as much as people would like to have seen. But we also need money to operate," Denise Brown said.

She opened her records to The Times last week after media reports suggested that the foundation's 1998 tax returns showed that it fell far short of the standards for charitable giving, because it gave about 3.6% of its expenses to charity that year.

In fact, over the five years the foundation has been in place it has given about 36% of what it takes in to charity, still far short of national charity standards, according to Dan Langan, spokesman for the National Charities Information Bureau in New York.

"The standard most followed is that 60% of expenses go to charity," Langan said. "A well-run organization will give away 70%."

The organization, which is funded by contributions and money-raising activities, was formed in 1994 after the slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson. Her ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, was acquitted of murder charges in her death and that of her friend, Ron Goldman, but was found liable in a subsequent civil case.

In its first three years, the foundation collected $655,562 and gave out $269,000 in contributions. But in the following two years, the charitable contributions dwindled and overhead expenditures increased.

The organization made no grants in 1997, while incurring overhead expenses of $111,261.

Lou Brown, Denise's father, ran the foundation in 1997, and at age 76 was tiring of the effort to keep the organization going, Denise Brown said. Instead of issuing grants, he gave away a book about spousal abuse to any organization that applied for a grant, she said. Reached for comment, Lou Brown, who retired from the board in 1998, referred all questions to Denise Brown.

The foundation's most noticeable expenses in recent years have been for rent and salaries. Over the past five years, for instance, rent payments grew more than five-fold from $9,730 per year in 1995 to $48,984 in 1996.

Denise Brown said the foundation's first office was at the Monarch Bay home of her parents, Lou and Juditha Brown, where the organization paid no rent in 1994. The office was moved to a nearby shopping center in 1995 and then to a 2,700-square-foot office in Dana Point as contributions and a crush of volunteers began rolling in.

According to Denise Brown, rent payments for the bigger office were $2,089 per month, but the organization was forced to move again when the building owner raised the rent to $4,500 a month. The foundation has been at its current location in San Juan Capistrano since April, paying $1,975 per month for a smaller office.

Salaries have also increased substantially, growing from $15,558 in 1995 to $79,220 last year.

Over the past two years, $110,557 of the foundation's money has gone to salaries, including $28,000 to Denise Brown, who became chairwoman of the charity's governing board in 1998.

The organization does not have any paid staffers this year, Denise Brown said, but its expenses still have to be paid even while contributions drop off.

"Nobody's doing anything wrong," said Roger Warren, the foundation's accountant. "There has been a significant drop in revenue, and they don't have the wherewithal to do the things they want to do."

Denise Brown attributed the drop in contributions to the public's shrinking interest in her sister's sensational slaying.

"At the beginning there was a huge hype because of the case. I was traveling three weeks a month, raising money and talking to groups," Brown said. "The hype has died down . . . .There are so many charities to give to. People don't have a lot of money to give to ours."

Brown said she drew a monthly salary of $2,000 between April 1998 and June 1999 after the board of directors insisted she do so. It is the only salary she has ever received from the foundation, Brown said.

Brown said she hired a full-time fund-raiser in 1998, paying her $2,916 a month, and a full-time office manager who received $2,500 a month. A third employee earned $880 per month working part time. All three employees have been let go, she said.

"We weren't raising any money. We couldn't afford to pay anybody," Brown said. "I gave $35,000 in salary to somebody who was going to turn the organization around and have it be a very successful foundation. Well, it didn't happen."

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