Councilman's nonprofit not quite what it claims

Posted: June 06, 2014

A CITY COUNCILMAN may be in hot water if he accepted charitable donations for a worthy cause but failed to alert the federal government of his philanthropic efforts.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose 2nd District includes parts of Center City, Southwest and South Philadelphia, runs a group called Peace Not Guns, which aims to foster a partnership among youth, city agencies and community groups to stem gun violence.

Even before he became a state representative, Johnson had a history of community service and advocacy, but a recent discovery about his self-proclaimed nonprofit organization has gotten him into some controversy.

Axis Philly reported Sunday that Johnson did not obtain 501(c)3 status despite claiming nonprofit status on the Peace Not Guns website for years. The website has since been taken down.

"It was listed as a 501(c)3 on my website, which was totally an oversight on my behalf," Johnson said yesterday when asked about the issue. "We'll continue to rectify the situation."

He said the Peace Not Guns website is more than 6 years old, but was created years after the program was founded in 1998 and became incorporated under the state.

A search on the IRS website of tax-exempt organizations supported that account.

Michael Knoll, a professor and expert in tax law at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the concern is that contributions made to 501(c)3s are tax-deductible.

"If one holds oneself out as a 501(c)3 when one isn't, there's a risk that that will amount to fraud," said Knoll.

Johnson was mum when asked how much money was on the books for Peace Not Guns.

"No money was donated to the actual organization," he said. "The account was closed in 2008, and so we would work with other umbrella organizations as a fiduciary organization for the Peace Not Guns program."

Johnson said that when Peace Not Guns was organized, and during the application process for state incorporation, the federal tax-exemption status got lost in the shuffle.

"It's a program and it's a concept," he said. "I think sometimes the two can get intertwined."

A flyer for a Peace Not Guns memorial basketball game last summer at a playground in Johnson's district advertised free pretzels and water ice and a live performance by Philly hip-hop emcee Asia Sparks.

"We haven't made any significant money," he said. "We've never done anything significant in terms of fundraising [for] Peace Not Guns."

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