(Jim Wallis called this morning [Friday, Aug. 27] and asked me to forgive him for reacting to my initial Soros/Sojourners column by calling me a liar. I certainly do forgive him. -Marvin Olasky)
It's almost an axiom of politics that the cover-up raises more questions than the crime. Ask Chuck Colson about that. In the case of Jim Wallis, oddly enough, we have no crime, but we definitely have had a cover-up.
Quick background: Half-way through a July 17 WORLD column I mentioned that in 2004 Sojourners, Jim's organization, received $200,000 from billionaire George Soros, a financier of left-wing groups that push for abortion, atheism, bigger government, and other causes. I had a printout of a page from the website of the Open Society Institute-Soros is OSI's founder, funder, and chairman-showing the grant.
It didn't seem to me like any big deal: Of course Soros would see the religious left as important in drawing evangelical votes away from a conservative embrace. Of course Jim would take the money in pursuit of his aims. So I was surprised by Jim's reaction when Timothy Dalrymple, who writes for the Patheos website, asked him about my mention of Sojourners receiving funding from Soros.
Dalrymple asked, "Is there anything wrong with making common cause with the George Soroses of the world?" Jim exploded: "It's not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I'm sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don't receive money from Soros."
Jim kept insisting: "We don't receive money from George Soros. Our books are totally open, always have been. Our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners. That's where it comes from."
OK, easy enough to defend myself against lying: Ask folks to go to the OSI website and see for themselves. I did-and the record was gone. Cue the Twilight Zone music. Was my printout a forgery? Was I lying?
Happily for me, some other people had been curious about the Wallis-Soros connection. They had seen the $200,000 grant listed on the website before someone apparently scrubbed the site. They had a PDF of it and a PDF of a $25,000 Soros grant to Sojourners in 2006. Dalrymple wrote about this on his website. Jay Richards on August 17 wrote about this for National Review Online, noting "I have physical copies of these pages, which is good, because these pages seem to have disappeared from the OSI website (I'm sure that's just a coincidence)."
Richards also noted that "until Wednesday, August 11, Dalrymple's second blog post at Patheos had accompanying PDFs of the OSI webpages. Alas, as I was writing this piece, the relevant webpages started disappearing. The first one to go was Dalrymple's second blog post. Then, on the morning of Thursday, August 12, Dalrymple's first blog post disappeared. . . . there seem to be a lot of disappearing webpages."
Richards concluded, "At the very least, Wallis has abandoned even the pretense of civil discourse here. Olasky has evidence of Soros grants to Sojourners, so the most that Wallis would be justified in saying is that Olasky is mistaken and that the evidence is misleading or fraudulent (which seems unlikely)."
It's good to be defended, but this was still bothersome. The Open Society Institute did not respond to a phone call asking why its pages were disappearing. So it looked like we were left with Jim's word against others, including me, plus the evidence-yet people would be unable to look for themselves and see.
What to do? I examined one usually helpful website, Guidestar, but its collection of Sojourners' IRS Form 990s, which many nonprofit groups need to file, goes back only to 2007. Next, the Foundation Center website: Yes, it has earlier ones, but Sojourners merely had to list revenue from grants, not spell out their origins.
A stalemate? No, wait-the contribution to Sojourners was gone from the Open Society Institute's website, but what about OSI's 990-PF for 2004? IRS forms cannot be so readily scrubbed, right? Yes, the Foundation Center website has it. Wow, 283 pages. Let's dig in. Hmm, lots of income statements, some of them printed upside down. Legal fees. Program-related investments. Expenditure responsibility report-no Sojourners. Grants to other organizations-no Sojourners. Grants to U.S. Public Charities . . .
Yes! On page 225: Sojourners, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009. To support the Messaging and Mobilization Project: Engaging Christians on the Importance of Civic Involvement. October, 2004. $200,000.
Want to see for yourself what someone apparently did not want you to see? Click here to download the PDF, go to page 225, and you'll see the grant to Sojourners.
You can also see the 2006 grant by downloading the 990-PF for that year and going to page 125. And by the way, look at page 114 of the 990-PF for 2007: another $100,000 grant to Sojourners "to support the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign."
Oh, and save the PDFs of those reports. I don't think they'll disappear from the web, but you never know.
Sojourners communications manager Tim King has now acknowledged that Sojourners received funding from George Soros. King released a statement from Jim Wallis in which Jim says he "should have declined to comment" until he had checked the facts. Now that Jim has, he sees there were grants "from the Open Society Institute that made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners' funding during that decade-so small that I hadn't remembered them."
The first of the three grants, for $200,000, came at a time when Sojourners, according to its 2003 audited financial statement, had "incurred a significant amount of net losses" leading to "a negative asset balance" of $57,324 and had "adopted a strategy to generate additional sources of revenue and to reduce expenditures." Those phrases are from "Note G" of the audited financial statement, which can be downloaded here, under the heading "Going concern."
After repeated emails and phone calls, Soros spokeswoman Laura Silber responded to a query from WORLD's Warren Smith about the disappearance of online records showing the Open Society Institute's grants to Sojourners. She said the grants did occur but the reason the documents were gone is "pretty simple. We are overhauling our website. That feature was not working well, so we decided to disable it. It won't be a part of our new site, which is still an ongoing project."
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