Two-time Oscar-winning actress, political activist and philanthropist Jane Fonda came under fire Thursday after it was revealed that her Jane Fonda Foundation hasn’t made a single charitable donation in the past five years, even though it’s worth almost $800,000.
According to federal tax filings obtained by FOX411 and first published on The Smoking Gun, the Atlanta-based organization – of which Fonda is listed as president and chairman of the board, but receives no monetary compensation – was founded in 2004 and spent its first two years giving away large sums of money. But its gift of giving has dramatically dwindled since.
In 2004, Fonda’s foundation donated $300,000 to the Emory University School of Medicine and $150,000 to the Henry W. Grady Foundation. In 2005 it gave $500,000 to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.
But in 2006 it handed out only $1,000 to the Atlanta Obstetric and Gynecology Society, and from 2007 through to 2011, it distributed zero funds.
It was initially suggested that Fonda’s foundation could be violating IRS regulations, which requires that private foundations make annual distributions of at least 5 percent of their assets to prohibit them from stockpiling and investing funds. But Barry Hirsch, a legal representative for Fonda, insisted that IRS requirements have been met and the charity is in full compliance with all codes. Hirsch said that, by law, over-contributions in earlier years – in this case 2004 and 2005 – can be carried over for up to five years and be covered as the “5 percent rule.”
But Andrew Morton, partner and chair of the sports and entertainment law group Handler Thayer, LLP, which works with numerous non-profits, said something still doesn’t sit quite right.
“He is correct that under certain circumstances IRS permits the carryover of ‘excess distributions’ for up to five subsequent tax years. How exactly would excess contributions during 2004 and 2005 explain the failure to make minimum required distributions during 2011? That justification would have expired in 2010,” he said.
When questioned further, Fonda’s representatives told us that an oversight was made in the 2011 tax return, and that a donation was made – although it was erroneously declared on Fonda’s personal tax return and not on the Foundation’s. We’re told that the oversight was discovered in 2012 and the person responsible for the mistake was “let go.” Hirsch assured us that all finances were resurrected in 2013 and that they remain in complete compliance with the law.
But there are still some uncertainties. According to Morton, any excess distributions carryover should be disclosed under Part X III of the Form 900-PF federal tax return. Fonda's private foundation return for 2011 does not report any carryover that applies against the stated distributable amount of $38,922.
“So it appears that, at best, her organization has filed an inaccurate return. Otherwise, the organization may have subjected itself to penalties,” Morton said.
Hirsch declined to comment on these specifics.
So why two years of giving big chunks of change, and almost nothing thereafter?
According to a source closely connected to the 75-year-old actress, Fonda met all necessary IRS regulations in the first two years of her foundation’s existence and has spent the last several years consistently digging deep into her own pockets instead.
“Jane donates significant sums of her personal money to different charities and organizations all the time,” the source told FOX411, adding that Fonda returned to active donations through the 2013 fiscal year. “Her generosity goes above and beyond.”
LooktotheStars.org, which documents the charities celebrities support, lists Fonda as having lent her support to numerous organizations, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, Peace Over Violence and Heifer International.
Also registered to the same Atlanta address as Fonda’s office is the Fonda Family Foundation, of which the actress is listed as president and chairman although it is registered as a separate organization. The Fonda Family Foundation has been an active philanthropy through the 2000s, giving significant sums to various organizations including Emory University and Captain Planet Foundation.
But critics say the lack of donations from her own foundation for several consecutive years still reflects poorly, regardless of its supposedly compliant IRS standing. Jane Fonda Foundation Inc. has a listed purpose of benefiting “educational institutions and related activities.”
John Conway, entertainment attorney and CEO of Astonish Media Group, said: “This sort of publicity is never good for any celebrity, when their charity foundation appears stingy at best.”