Former UC regent Ward Connerly accused of mishandling funds

Former University of California regent Ward Connerly, best known for his efforts to end affirmative action in California and across the nation, has been accused of mishandling funds by a former employee.

In addition to facing allegations of excessive compensation by former employee Jennifer Gratz, the nonprofit American Civil Rights Institute Connerly founded is currently under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and California’s attorney general, according to The New York Times.

A Times investigation into Connerly’s tax records indicates that Connerly received about $1.3 million in total compensation for the 2009-10 fiscal year, though his organization receives about $2 million a year in donations.

Connerly told the Times he was paid to run the organization, to raise funds and to give speeches. He added that some of the compensation was used to cover costs for research and security  and that the group has reduced his pay to $850,000.

In 1995, then-regent Connerly pushed the UC to halt the consideration of race as a factor in admissions and employment. One year later, he led the charge to pass Proposition 209, which banned racial and gender preferences in California.

Recently, Connerly brought his efforts to UC Berkeley in support of the Berkeley College Republicans’ September “Increase Diversity Bake Sale.”

Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said Connerly came to the event for free and brought along his own security team.

“I thought he was very personable, intelligent and he is not afraid to think independently,” Lewis said.

The allegations of mishandling funds that Connerly currently faces stem from Gratz’s September resignation from his organization and a letter she sent to its board through her attorney urging an investigation into Connerly’s alleged excessive compensation.

In the letter, Gratz alleges “Mr. Connerly’s stewardship of (the organization) has, at a minimum, raised questions about whether the organization’s mission has been subordinated to Mr. Connerly’s personal interests.”

The letter states that since around June 2011, the organization has been unable to focus on its charitable work because of the investigations conducted by the Internal Revenue Service and the Office of the California Attorney General into its administrative costs.

Gratz further highlights that employees and contractors have had personal or nonprofessional relationships with Connerly.

“Of the eight current salaried employees at least five of these employees are family members, have been longtime family friends or have had personal relationships,” the letter states.

Connerly maintains that the accusations laid against him are false and that Gratz is bitter about not replacing him as head of the nonprofit.

Although Johnny Zamrzla, board chair of the organization, said in a statement that the board has reviewed the issues raised in the letter, the board has not taken any action thus far to investigate Gratz’s claims.

“Like many non-profits, these last few years have presented a number of financial challenges that we are working through as an organization,” Zamrzla said in the statement. “We are disappointed that Ms. Gratz decided to leave our organization and then chose to go to The New York Times, a longtime opponent of our efforts, to air her concerns.”