PART I: Vanguard Slams the Door on Required Public Disclosures
By Colin Walsh
On Friday, May 3rd, David Greenwald of the “The People’s Vanguard of Davis,” a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt company, refused to turn over nonprofit tax documentation. This appears to violate U.S Department of Treasury regulations and adopted Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines. As stated on the IRS website [my emphasis]: “tax-exempt organizations must make available for public inspection certain annual returns and applications for exemption, and must provide copies of such returns and applications to individuals who request them. Copies usually must be provided immediately in the case of in-person requests, and within 30 days in the case of written requests.” The IRS website provides more detail about the types of documentation that 501c3 nonprofits like the Vanguard are required to provide.
On Friday afternoon at about 4:10PM, Rik Keller and I visited the Vanguard office, located on the second floor of 221 G Street in downtown Davis. David Greenwald opened the door shortly after Keller knocked. At first it looked as though Greenwald would invite us in as he has previous times I have visited the Vanguard offices, but as we stepped forward Greenwald moved to block the entrance.
Keller then stated that he was there to get the documents he had previously requested. Greenwald responded brusquely, “30 days.” Keller stated that as a nonprofit the Vanguard was required by law to make certain documentation immediately available for inspection upon an in-person request. Greenwald stated that he did not have the documents there in the office.
Keller pointed out that he had emailed Greenwald and other Vanguard board members a week earlier and Greenwald had been notified a couple of times that the documents were going to be requested in person. Keller informed Greenwald that not providing the documents was a violation of nonprofit law and asked him if he was aware of that. Greenwald replied “OK”.
Keller then told Greenwald he would repeat the request again in writing but would expect the documents to be released to him in person next week when he would return. Greenwald’s reply was “enjoy.”
The Vanguard Literally and Figuratively Slams the Door
Without warning Greenwald then slammed the office door, forcefully striking Keller’s foot that was partway in the doorway. Greenwald continued to apply pressure to the door, trapping Keller’s foot between the lower part of the door and the carpet. Greenwald then yelled “I AM GOING TO CALL THE COPS!” Keller managed to wriggle his foot free, and the door slammed closed with a thud.
The Information Request
On Friday 4/26/2019 via email Keller requested the following information from Vanguard representatives David Greenwald, CEO/Board Member; Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, Secretary/Board Member; and Robert Canning, CFO/Treasurer/Board Member/Editorial Board Member:
- IRS Form 990s (including any supporting documents) for the most recent three years
- Board meetings, meeting notices, and minutes for the most recent three years
- The organization bylaws
- A complete listing of organizational structure, including officers and Board members and contact information.
This information request is directly connected to the investigative work that Keller and others (including myself) have been performing to publicly document possible ethical and legal violations by both the Vanguard and the Davis City Council in relation to a planned upcoming fundraiser that the Vanguard has advertised, summarized in this article he co-authored with me and Roberta Millstein on the Davisite website. Other public coverage of this has included a Sunday front-page article in the Davis Enterprise a week ago reported by Tanya Perez and two op-eds written by Davis Enterprise staff (“Our View”, Dunning).
Keller has also commented in public forums and directly to Vanguard Officers/Board Members/Editorial Board Members about the Davis Vanguard’s direct involvement in the Yes on Measure L campaign on last fall’s local ballot. And he has attempted to obtain information to try to determine the full extent of the money that the Vanguard received from campaign proponents and connected entities. He has also used email, messages, and public forum postings to call for the Vanguard to adopt principles /policies/guidelines regarding ethical journalistic practices and funding/donor transparency, including standards and guidelines advocated by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN).
Keller stated in his original 4/26 email request, “I would prefer to receive these material in PDFs via email, but if I am required to go to the Vanguard office to request them in person to receive printed copies immediately, I will do so.”
There was no response from Vanguard officers/Board members, so Keller followed up with direct messages the next week to Greenwald on Tuesday, April 30th, and Wednesday, May 1st, inquiring about a convenient time to pick up the requested documents in person. He also sent a separate email on Thursday, May 2nd, to Vanguard CFO/Treasurer/Board Member/Editorial Board Member Robert Canning asking for the documents. Canning also did not respond. Keller then contacted me to accompany him on his visit on the Vanguard office because he said he was concerned that Greenwald would attempt to mischaracterize the interaction.
Note: Davis Vanguard officers/Board members Greenwald , Escamilla Greenwald and Canning have not replied to an email asking for comment on their organizations denial of the information request for this article series made on Saturday morning, May 4th. Instead, attorney Paul Boylan responded, “on behalf of David Greenwald.” Boylan makes several claims in his response email that are difficult to reconcile with what I witnessed and with what the IRS requires. His response also included a link to a new Vanguard web page containing some IRS tax information. Part II of this article will cover Boylan's response; his demands; and a brief discussion of nonprofit organizations, openness and transparency, and the public trust.