Fidelity Charitable, the country’s largest donor-advised fund, is deviating from its pledge to honor donors’ grant requests in a “cause-neutral” manner, according to a new lawsuit filed with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Dawn Manning, an account holder from Louisiana, joined forces with Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys to file the complaint, urging the state’s top law enforcement official to investigate discrimination against conservative nonprofit groups and violations of state consumer protection laws.
Alliance Defending Freedom is the group that defended the Anchorage Downtown Hope Center against a lawsuit by a male dressed as a woman who demanded entry into the women’s shelter. It has also defended a Colorado web designer who didn’t want to make a wedding page for a same-sex wedding.
Fidelity Charitable, which distributed over $11.2 billion in funds for individual donors last year, faces allegations that it is responding to pressure from left-wing organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Amalgamated Foundation, and the “Unmasking Fidelity” initiative.
The Unmasking Fidelity coalition, based in Boston with national support, says it “is committed to challenging Fidelity Charitable’s role in funneling millions of dollars through Donor Advisor Funds to organizations that promote and further systemic oppression globally.”
The complaint from Manning says that Fidelity Charitable is hindering anonymous donations to religious and conservative groups, raising concerns about freedom of speech and philanthropic liberty and intent.
Unmasking Fidelity demands that Fidelity Charitable publicly disclose “past contributions to organizations perpetuating white supremacy and fascism.” The group says Fidelity must divest from what it describes as the “violence of white supremacy and fascism by developing a public screening policy.” And it says the charitable fund must redistribute the funds it has already given out. The groups that would get the funds must be “communities most impacted by white supremacist and fascist violence.“
In other words, the group wants to take over Fidelity Charitable and redistribute the funds that individual donors have entrusted to the organization.
Fidelity Charitable allows Americans to set up their own grant-making funds, similar to foundations, and support most qualified 501(c)(3) public charities. But Fidelity Charitable says that “Public charity status alone does not guarantee that a grant recommendation will be approved.” In other words, the company still has the final say.
“Politicizing our culture of giving is dangerous for people of all beliefs. Our freedoms travel together—including freedom of speech and philanthropic freedom,” remarked Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President for Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco. He highlighted the 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta, which affirmed the right to privacy in financial giving as part of the First Amendment’s “free association” promise.
The complaint asserts that Fidelity Charitable blocked Manning’s donations to Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Center for Security Policy, and Pacific Justice Foundation—groups that have been targeted by “Unmasking Fidelity” and labeled as “hate groups” by SPLC.
However, Manning’s test donations to left-leaning organizations, such as Human Rights Campaign, CAIR Foundation, and Lambda Legal, were processed promptly.
Documentation reveals that Fidelity Charitable has informed account holders in at least 12 states since 2019 that they cannot direct funds anonymously to ADF.
In the same year, “Unmasking Fidelity” began demanding public disclosure of five years’ worth of contributions to 10 specified organizations, including ADF, Family Research Council, and Center for Security Policy.
The initiative, relying on the widely discredited Southern Policy Law Center, has come under scrutiny for its inclusion of numerous parental-rights-in-education groups in its debunked “Hate Map.”
Unmasking Fidelity also seeks to impose a screening mechanism on Fidelity Charitable to restrict conservative and religious charities as donation options.
Despite public denials from Fidelity Charitable leadership, the complaint seems to indicate that the pressure exerted by the campaign is having an impact.
“Everyone should oppose this name-and-shame censorship,” emphasized ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “Every American should be free to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation. That’s why the anonymity provided by donor-advised funds like Fidelity Charitable is so important, and it’s why government officials like the Louisiana attorney general must ensure that people of faith are not treated as second-class citizens.”