EXCLUSIVE: Is Austin Petersen Running a “Nonprofit” Slush Fund?

in Politics by
   

One of the strengths of the liberty movement has always been the web of libertarian think tanks, institutes, and foundations that work to create content and spread the message of small government. From the Mises Institute to the Foundation for Economic Education to the Cato Institute, there are plenty of libertarian organizations that have done good, honest work.

And then there is the Stonegait Institute.

The project of The Libertarian Republic founder and former Libertarian Presidential candidate Austin Petersen, the Stonegait Institute presents itself as a “nonprofit” organization that aims to “empower activists and advocates to challenge abuses of authority through reporting, training, and advocacy.”

The institute apparently operates with a small staff – only six employees are listed on their website, including Petersen himself.

On every page on the site, there is a large “donate” prompt, so it is clear that the organization is looking for funding. Should liberty-minded donors open up their pocketbooks for Austin’s new project?

What does Stonegait do, exactly?

That is a good question.

Joe Trotter, Executive Director of the Stonegait Institute, states that the institute’s goal is to “connect motivated people with the expertise they need to bring local activism to the next level.”

“Grassroots campaigns are capable of making real change, but they are often hamstrung by lack of resources and training,” he said.

On the site’s blog, which is updated weekly, there is only one example of Stonegait being involved in any real political activity. The institute’s “Donor Relations Officer”, Zach Garretson, spoke in favor of less restrictive marijuana laws at a county meeting in Escambia County, Florida. Stonegait covered the event in an article they titled “Activists Supported By Stonegait Institute Wins Big for Medical Marijuana.”

The “advocacy” section of their site is sparse, presenting the following:

The Stonegait Institute also engages in direct advocacy on important issues. We provide model legislation about important issues and help other organizations with their advocacy efforts.”

There is no model legislation to be found anywhere on the site, or clear examples of them helping outside organizations with “advocacy” efforts.

What about “training”? The institute claims to “provide training and resources to those who want to make a difference in their community,” although there are no examples to date on the Stonegait blog of the organization providing such assistance.

Besides the site’s blog, the only other regularly updated part of Stonegait’s site is their donation page.

“Nonprofit”

Trotter claimed via email that Stonegait is a 501c(4) social welfare organization. Organizations of this nature, per IRS law, must promote the “social welfare” first, and be involved in politics second. As a general rule, to avoid an audit and other potential ramifications, 501c(4) organizations are recommended to spend “50.1%” of their budget on non-campaign activity.

The only way for the public to keep track of these expenditures is by looking at IRS form 990, which 501c(4) organizations must submit every year.

At press time, according to all available public disclosure databases and the IRS, Stonegait has not filed form 990 this year.

 

Searching for Stonegait on TaxExemptWorld returned 0 results.
Searching for Stonegait on TaxExemptWorld returned zero results.

 

Charity101 had nothing either.
Charity101 had nothing either.

 



No results on MelissaData.
No results on MelissaData.

 

Nothing on Guidestar.
Nothing on Guidestar.

 

Nothing on ProPublica.
No 990 filings on ProPublica.

 

Finally, from the IRS itself- no organization named Stonegait has filed a 990 form.
Finally, from the IRS itself, no organization named Stonegait has filed a 990 form.

 

After reviewing the six largest databases that track nonprofit organizations, none of the six – including the IRS’ own database – have any record of Stonegait existing on paper as a legitimate nonprofit organization.

For all potential donors to know, Stonegait’s budget could allocate all of the money to Petersen’s pocket – without seeing a 990 form, there is no way to know for sure. 

Follow the money

This could all be explained away if Stonegait was still in its planning stages, just getting established and not yet collecting finances.

However, here’s the problem: the Institute claims to be grossing hundreds of dollars per month.

“The replicas of George Washington’s flintlock pistol are on their way to the winners of our September drawings, and I am pleased to announce we have another drawing planned for October,” Stonegait’s donation page reads.

The replicas the site is alluding to were awarded to an undisclosed amount of random winners who donated more than $100 to the institute in September 2016. Replicas (plural) implies that the site grossed at least $200 from at least two donors in September.

It is unclear, due to the fact the organization has no IRS form 990 on record, where that money was spent.

Another tool that could help determine whether Stonegait was a legitimate foundation or not is their EIN number. When asked, Stonegait provided The Liberty Conservative with “C4-4000569”.

This is not a valid EIN.  Furthermore, they would not confirm whether or not they had filed IRS form 8976 (intent to operate as a 501c4).

These two facts together indicate that Stonegait does not exist with any kind of IRS recognition.

Why does this matter?

Stonegait Institute has existed for months, has been collecting donations the whole time- and has done next to nothing.

If it turns out that Austin Petersen, a former Libertarian presidential candidate, is running a slush fund presenting itself as an “institute,” then every criticism of fraudulence, unethical behavior, and lack of legitimacy that has been levied at libertarians gains credibility.

If it turns out that Petersen is running a foundation that is legal, but inactive and ineffective, it distracts and diverts money from the other great pro-liberty foundations available for donors to consider.

Either way, Petersen’s handling of Stonegait provides the liberty movement with a pyramid pile of cause to be concerned.

189 Comments

  1. I guess libertarians ought to look for better qualifications from their leaders (or potential leaders). “Runs a click bait website” doesn’t cut it – at least for any legitimate political movement out there.

  2. Random fact: non profits won’t appear on those sites until they file their yearly 990. Stonegait has been around less than a year so hasn’t filed, hence no info. You could have Wikipediad that information. But for some reason you are on a fishing/smear expedition. Question is why?

    • Sebastian Balluff Ron Paul and the Libertarians killed the GOP. You guys are WAY off message on conservatism, and have scared away your support. EVERYDAY I recruit more and more of your disaffected members to my party. Keep laughing, you help us the more you do.

    • When you look at voter registration numbers, number of voters, fundraising, number of districts controlled, approval ratings (not talking about trump here; but I will in a moment) all of the metrics used to determine the health of any party, It is easy to see that the GOP is in freefall. Aside from the pending trouncing the GOP ticket will receive in November.

      The party structure itself, was dealt a huge blow. You would have had a contested convention in 2012, but huge swaths of delegates were rejected from 40+ states. (Not to mention the circus of state conventions that used simaler tactics) From 2012 to midterms to 2016 Priebus and co. have worked diligently to quell dissention in the ranks. Then you have 16 candidates open the season in all out warfare. It’s good for TV but REALLY bad for political parties. The GOP lost control and credibility. Then…

      Trump. Do I really even need to get into that mess?

      The GOP has been putting band aids on bullet wounds for for a decade. The writing is on the wall, The GOP has all but disavowed the top billing candidate, your down ticket candidates and issues are going to take a pie in the face and there is not much Republicans can do to stop it.

    • Recovery for the GOP looks grim. Taking away all the metrics of credibility, and reputation; the fact that you represent two ideologies that are fighting amongst yourselves, or that you guys can’t field any activism. It all boils down to an actuarial science issue. You guys have a failing base of support, and without people raising funds becomes hard.

      PEW research states that only %22 of millennials would choose the Republican party, when DTS is included. The same poll also states that when given ONLY Democrats and Republican you only take %36 of the pie. You do slightly better as the age groups grow older. The only place where you have a majority is amongst what they call the “silent” generation. (77-88 years of age).

      Your party is old, and so is the nanny state.

  3. FWIW, the Stonegait Institute has been a very effective tool to report on issues, and organize activists. We have only been up and running for a couple of months, and pretty much everyone else involved has a full time job somewhere else, so sometimes we are a bit delayed in writing about our successes. We do have a lot of great plans for the future, and if anyone wants to get involved, and/or help us out, please feel free to shoot me a message!

  4. Did the CATO Institute or Mises just show up one day with hundreds of employees and details on everything or did they take sometime to grow into the things they are now.. want to talk about slush funds how about the Clinton foundation and Trumps ventures?

  5. What a poorly written smear piece. Did you even attempt to contact anyone to answer your questions? Maybe next time at least pretend like you aren’t writing a biased predetermined hit piece.

  6. The people who work with the Stonegait Institute are some of the most passionate liberty fighters out there. Most of them are constantly working on events and pushing to get liberty minded candidates into office. Stonegait Institute is very very new but has already been having an impact. I’ve been very impressed with them.

  7. So let’s actually talk about this.

    1) Stonegait Institute has not even been established for a full year yet, so no, there would be no form to turn into the IRS.

    2) You failed to mention the pro-Gary Johnson commercial that has been produced by the StonegaitPAC and LokiPac, which should be released soon.

    These are only two of the main flaws within the piece.

    I run a prong of the for-profit side of the Institute, Liberty Viral, and I can tell you it is no “slush fund,” but it’s worth it and a great opportunity for liberty lovers to contribute to the cause.

    We could easily bring in more money if we shilled for Trump or wrote inaccurate speculatory pieces, but I’d like to stay honest and true to “liberty.”

    Best of luck with your reviews that you’ve removed.

  8. Austin, You could put this all to rest really easily by posting your submitted 8976 form which legally you had to submit within 60 days of forming your organization.

    Or you could post a copy of your submitted 1024 or 990 forms if you’ve submitted them.

    Also you should post your EIN confirmation notice from the IRS to prove you have a valid one.

    • Joe Trotter “This acknowledgement is not a determination by the IRS that you qualify as tax-exempt”

      You think posting a letter from the IRS confirming the receipt of a Form 8976 is the same as showing you were approved to operate as a 501(c)(4)?

      Oh, my sweet summer child…

      James Allsup is gonna have a field day with you my friend

    • So anyone who knows anything about tax law knows that 501c4s don’t need or require permission to operate as tax exempt for the first year and a half of operation. At that point the IRS reviews your records and determines if you can continue receiving tax exempt status. If James wants to show his incompetent ass to the world again, he’s more than welcome to do so (and I assume this is the “big development” he was touting last night), I’ll just have a fun day schooling people…again…and reaping in enough donations to fund an advocacy project…again.

  9. Next go look at all the money he funneled out of his presidential campaign through PayPal and stripe…that is all the donor money that wasn’t spent on excessive bar tabs and uber rides. But I guess you gotta do what you gotta do to get enough money to move off your dads futon.

  10. This is ridiculous. It’s obvious the Liberty Conservative is just a trying to smear AP because he doesn’t support Trump and supports the Libertarian party. The words Liberty and Conservative do not describe Trump so I’m not sure why the Liberty Conservative would support him.

  11. Can we discuss the massive flaw in the article? It reference the fact a 990 form hasn’t been filed. I’m not sure when Austin launched Stonegait Institute but it had to be after June of 2016. Based on IRS requirements that form isn’t required until the 15th of the fifth month after the fiscal year. For some reason you imply it should have been filed already. Care to discussion your error there?

  12. I sat in a Starbucks not a month ago and talked with Austin about his new foundation and all he hoped to accomplish. It’s in its infancy right. Now. Frankly it takes a seriously penniless blogger to think “hundreds a month” in donations a slush fund.

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