Other members of the public and I have asked our high school football booster club to let us see their books, receipts and banking records, but the booster club will not give us any information. They told us that with a 501(c)(3) classification they do not have to. Is this true? If the board is stealing money, how can the public remove them from office if the public can’t vote them off?
Having 501(c)(3) charitable exempt status has nothing to do with whether members of the public have a right to inspect the books and records of a nonprofit organization. That is a question of state law and if you are not voting members, as you imply with your second question, you probably have no right to any information.
The Tax Code requires that they give you a copy of the Form 990 or Form 990-EZ tax information return that they have to file. But if the total annual income is less than $50,000, they only have to file the 990-N electronic postcard that doesn’t include any financial information.
Depending on what you are asking and not getting answers about, you might get the school involved in the questioning. Or the local media may be interested enough to ask and write a story. You have to be careful about libel and slander, however, if you start talking about theft and aren’t right.
If you can prove that members of the board are really stealing from the organization, the local prosecuting attorney or state attorney general may be interested. But you will probably need pretty good evidence or have a substantial amount of money involved to get them to take any action.
On the contrary, if any organization is operating under the control of or as part of a public agency, the organization’s records may be public records. That is why the League of California Cities has to operate under the California Public Records Act.
I would ask the California First Amendment Coalition to see if their lawyer members will render an opinion.
RESPONSE This is an idea worth considering and I probably should have mentioned the possibility in my answer. An organization that is part of a public agency would not ordinarily be classified as a 501(c)(3) organization even though contributions to it would be deductible as charitable contributions. Somebody from the club could have claimed (c)(3) status without realizing that there is a difference. It is also possible (although probably not likely) that the club could be separately classified as 501(c)(3) and as a supporting organization to a public agency under 509(a)(3), in which case the public agency could have a controlling role and perhaps be covered by the California statute. Since I think most booster clubs are separate entities and it was described as a 501(c)(3), I assumed it was not part of the government or subject to governmental rules, but it is certainly worth looking into.
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