Commentary on Freedom, Inc and Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district

Chris Rickert:

Leaders of Freedom Inc. declined to speak with the Wisconsin State Journal or allow a reporter to observe the group’s social services work, making it difficult to describe the group’s current activities beyond protesting at public meetings.

Among the programs listed on its website are an anti-violence Black Girls Matter program and the Lotus Youth Group, a program for Cambodian youth that “helps educate and build healthy relationships with families and communities through dance and cultural arts.”

This year, the group is receiving grants through the state Department of Children and Family Services totaling $542,040 to pay for domestic violence and victim services for black and Southeast Asian populations, including “case management, advocacy (and) support groups,” and “education about health, economic and social issues.”

Madison Hmong leaders split over city funding for elders

From Oct. 1, 2016, to the end of 2017, the state Department of Justice has awarded the group $670,237 through two federal grant programs created under the Violence Against Women and Victims of Crime acts.

And from 2014 through the first quarter of this year, the city of Madison has provided the group with $64,334 for programs for Hmong girls and women and black girls aimed at improving self perceptions, building leadership skills, “raising awareness about the challenges within their communities” and encouraging “action to address barriers to success,” according to a summary put together by the city’s Community Development Division.

The summary shows more than 300 people participated in the city-funded programs over that time.

Laurel Bastian, a Freedom Inc. donor, said that “while their actions at the School Board meeting are an important part of their work, it also exists in a broader context of Freedom Inc.’s goals and (years) of direct service work.”

As for its approach to political advocacy, Bastian said, “in every major modern social movement, locally and globally, asking without causing disruption has been ineffective. … Active disruption, in every single case, was necessary to end violence and shift towards justice.”

Federal tax records show that Freedom Inc.’s revenue more than tripled from 2015 to 2016, from about $450,000 to $1.5 million. In 2017, the most recent year for which its tax filings were available, Freedom Inc. collected some $1.57 million in 15 contributions ranging from $5,000 to $348,038, with a total of $1.72 million in revenue. The group’s co-executive directors, Adams and Kazbuag Vaj, were paid $95,002 and $100,232 in 2017.

The group blacked out the names of its 15 major donors that year, but among those listed in its 2017 annual report are the state departments of Justice and Children and Families, the city of Madison, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, The Wallace H Coulter Foundation and Borealis Philanthropy.

Under federal tax law, tax-exempt charitable organizations such as Freedom Inc. are allowed to engage in lobbying elected officials, as long as “no substantial part of the activities“ may be for “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation,” according to the National Council of Nonprofits.

The statutes do not clearly define what constitutes “substantial.”

Related: Notes and links on Freedom, Inc.


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