Perhaps it is a more common "thing" than I would like to consider: nonprofits as the personal business of individuals. For sure I recognize that there are faith-based institutions that are indeed the personal business of individuals (do I really need to name them?) but charitable nonprofits-I would have thought that the checks-and-balances inherent in the governance structure, aka board, helps limit this possibility. But my Sunday blog and today's does move me to reconsider this possibility, that more than a few nonprofits are really the personal piggy banks for some. Sunday's blog was about the sale of the Imus ranch and its sale at a huge loss (to the public) and the financial losses in general for the nonprofit. There went money intended to do good, out-the-door benefiting no one except perhaps as a tax advantage to Imus. And yes, there was barely a board - four people all "related".
Today though is a follow-up to a story I discussed last year. The wife of the founder of Kundalini Yoga and other related faith-based charitable enterprises has been suing the managers of the nonprofit organizations. Said wife wants her and her kids to be board members and to get a huge sum of money which she says she deserves because, well, she's the wife. Funny enough, she's claiming the managers have basically gotten what she should have gotten.
Now, maybe the founding Yogi didn't leave his widow enough to live in the style she had grown accustomed while the Yogi was alive but the courts have consistently maintained, effectively avoiding the widow's case, that the Yogi's businesses are a religion and can't be interfered-with by the courts. This doesn't at-all address the widow's claims but maybe that's the correct point. You don't get to be on a nonprofit board just because you are getting the wealth you expected. Nonprofit governance is not about the gaining of personal wealth. Nonprofit governance is a duty to protect the public's interest. At minimum the courts might offer that the widow's intention are anything but about protecting the public's interest.
From Oregon Live:
A federal judge has dismissed a long-running lawsuit brought by the widow of Yogi Bhajan, a spiritual teacher and entrepreneur who introduced Kundalini Yoga in the United States and who started an Oregon-based natural foods company with annual revenue of $125 million at one time.
She claimed her husband's advisers improperly excluded her and their children from the management boards of two nonprofit organizations her husband started.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled that the court shouldn't become entangled in essentially religious controversies.
Mosman's order dismisses the lawsuit with prejudice, ending for now a battle that has bounced between state and federal courts for nearly eight years, with an appeal heard before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
"In effect, Plaintiffs seek court interference in the membership of the boards that choose Sikh Dharma's highest level of leadership and exercise significant control over the direction of the Sikh Dharma religious in the Western Hemisphere,'' Mosman wrote.
Bhajan was a spiritual leader and entrepreneur who spread Sikhism and Kundalini Yoga in the United States beginning in the 1960s. In 1971, he was designated the Siri Singh Sahib, the Sikh leader for the Western Hemisphere, according to court records.
Among the corporations under Unto Infinity was Golden Temple of Oregon, which built the Peace Cereal and Yogi Tea brands and was long a cornerstone of Eugene's natural foods industry.
Bhajan died in October 2004. His widow, Bibiji Inderjit Kaur Puri of Los Angeles, known as "Bibiji," and their three children alleged that the general counsel of Unto Infinity and Siri Singh Sahib Corp. conspired to exclude them from participating in managing the organizations.
They wanted to be on both companies' boards and were seeking about $150 million in compensation for their losses.
The widow accused the advisers of converting millions of dollars in assets from the organizations for personal benefit.
Mosman found that the Unto Infinity and Siri Singh Sahib board members have religious duties that allow them to shape the future of the Sikh Dharma religion, including the choice and removal of religious leaders.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the right of religious organizations to select their own religious leaders. Mosman cited the "ministerial exemption'' to the First Amendment, which ensures that a civil court won't control who will minister in a religious organization.
The case, though, likely won't end here.
Puri plans to appeal Mosman's dismissal, said her lawyer Surjit P. Soni on Friday. Soni will argue that Mosman relied on "irrelevant and inadmissible evidence'' presented by the defendants to conclude that the Unto Infinity and Siri Singh Sahib Corp. boards are religious organizations.
"We have faith that the Court of Appeals will correct the errors,'' Soni said.
-- Maxine Bernstein