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Patriot Freedom Project Raises Donations for Capitol Rioters With Limited Accountability

   Jan 20, 2022

However controversial a particular cause may be, what donors across the political spectrum share is a desire to see the charities they support spend their donations the way they intend. Patriot Freedom Project, a group raising donations in support of Capitol rioters and their families, is incorporated in the state of New Jersey under the business name The Hughes Advocacy Foundation, Inc. It reports that the activities to be conducted under the Patriot Freedom Project name will include providing "financial, emotional, and other charitable support and assistance to individuals and families with financial and other needs."

But public accountability for the nearly $900,000 that Patriot Freedom Project has raised through early December 2021 is lacking. The group says it is still "seeking tax-exempt status" with the IRS, and authorities in New Jersey communicated that it has yet to file the required paperwork to register as a charity, according to a January 20, 2022 piece published by National Public Radio (NPR).  Until the group is fully subject to the nonprofit accounting and reporting rules that come with IRS-recognized tax-exempt status, donors may have no verifiable way to understand how their contributions are being spent. According to the NPR piece, "Family members of some alleged Capitol rioters have questioned what the group's criteria are for sending donations, and began pushing for more transparency."

"Certainly from a governance perspective, CharityWatch would give them a failing grade," CharityWatch executive director, Laurie Styron, told NPR. Styron also commented on public records reflecting that the three named trustees of Patriot Freedom Project include Cynthia Hughes, Hughes' sister-in-law, and Hughes' 24 year-old son, saying, "When too many family members are in positions of authority at a charity, the independent oversight needed to ensure that donations will be used the way donors intend is significantly eroded." 

NPR found that Hughes has filed multiple lawsuits, in which she represented herself, and publicly disclosed serious financial problems, stating in court documents that she had "struggled with late payments, poor credit scores, and the ripple effects of filing for bankruptcy in the 2000s," according to the NPR piece. These included lawsuits against credit rating agencies in 2013 and 2018 in which she sought thousands of dollars in damages and changes to her credit rating. "How likely would it be, right, for a completely independent board of directors at a charity to actually elect someone with that kind of personal financial and legal history to be the head of the nonprofit?" Styron questioned. 

Visit NPR or WAMU to listen to investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach's full story on Patriot Freedom Project.