Hamilton County mayoral candidate Matt Hullander on his campaign website touts that he and his wife started a family foundation that has provided nearly $1 million in support for local nonprofit organizations, but records of those numbers are unavailable.
The Hullander Family Foundation, which is run by the Chattanooga Republican and his wife, Jenny, is organized as a donor-advised fund, not a traditional private foundation.
Donor-advised funds are held by a separate nonprofit agency and, as such, are not required to make public the details surrounding their donations the way a private foundation would be if organized under IRS code section 501(c)(3).
"To be frank, I'm not going to go through every expense I ever had," Hullander said in a Friday phone interview. "I don't have to as a donor-advised fund."
In a Wednesday text message from Hullander, he offered a similar sentiment while explaining why he doesn't make donations public.
"I don't have to provide anything but I also don't appreciate being questioned about DOING GOOD," he texted. "My wife and I have worked hard over the last decade to provide support non-profits in this community. We make many of these donations privately as we don't seek publicity from the gifts and we don't want to open the foundation to unsolicited requests for donations."
Hullander provided some numbers and a list of multiple nonprofits the fund has donated to, which include the Erlanger Children's Hospital, Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Apison Baptist Church Food Pantry and the Isaiah 117 House.
On Friday, Hullander said that, for example, he committed $20,000 in annual donations to the children's hospital over a five-year period, totaling $100,000.
While Hullander's campaign website states that the fund has provided nearly $1 million to support nonprofits in total, he said this week on more than one occasion that the donor-advised fund has committed about $860,000.
"We raised over $1 million, then we had expenses," Hullander said Friday, noting expenses such as greens fees for his golf tournaments. "Then that roughly $860,000 was the proceeds. Jenny and I, of all that money, have put roughly $200,000 into the foundation. The rest was what we raised through several events, mostly golf tournaments."
Hullander has said that donations he and his wife have made outside the fund, such as to his church, would put the total "way over" $1 million.
In a March 18 letter from attorney R. Wayne Peters of the Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon law firm that was provided by the Hullander campaign, Peters broke down the numbers.
The Hullander Family Foundation, as of the day of the letter, had distributed about $636,500 to nonprofits, Peters wrote.
"In the most recent year, 2021, the Hullander Family Foundation made charitable grants totaling $70,000," Peters wrote. "After the recent $2,500 gift to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, the foundation has a current balance of $218,210 available for additional charitable grants. The prior charitable grants and the funds committed by the foundation for future charitable grants total $854,748."
Hullander and his wife launched the fund in 2012 to give himself, his wife and those involved in his family business, Hullco, the ability to give back to local nonprofits, he said Friday.
Hullander bought the business in 2007. The business was worth $4 million at the time, and Hullander grew it to a value of more than $20 million before selling it for an undisclosed amount in April 2021.
Initially known as the Hullco Heritage Foundation, the terms of the purchase agreement forced him to change the name of the nonprofit to the Hullander Family Foundation, he said Friday.
Hullander also owns V2 Strategies, a commercial real estate firm, and is also a partner in Scenic Land Co., which owns several projects throughout the area.
In addition, he is a founding partner of Rhinogram, president of B&M Development and a partner in Thompson 105, a new restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona.
He is the son of Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander.
The Hullander donor-advised fund is held by the Generosity Trust, a Christian-based nonprofit which cannot legally publicly disseminate information the donor does not want to disclose, said organization President Jim Barber in a Wednesday phone interview.
"Think of [the organization] as nothing more complex than a bucket that lives under our tax-exempt umbrella," Barber said. "And when a donor dumps into that bucket, they get a receipt. When the donor wants to make a grant to a church or charity, to any sort of 503(c)(3) organization, we kind of become their charitable checkbook."
Emily Young, executive director at the Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego, in a Thursday phone interview elaborated on why donation details don't have to be disclosed to the public.
"A community foundation, for instance, or some sort of other public charity, are required like any nonprofit to file IRS 990s to disclose their revenues, expenses and grants," she said. "They don't have to disclose by each fund, but they have to disclose collectively where the grants go."
For example, the Chattanooga-based Generosity Trust on its IRS filings shows $27.5 million in revenue and $25.3 million in expenditures in its most recent filing from 2019.
But nowhere does it mention what an individual fund is making in donations or to whom the donations are being sent.
"There's been a lot of attention given to donor-advised funds over the last two years," Young said. "There's been some criticism — No. 1, if the money going to those funds makes it back into the community, and, No. 2, where does it go."
Donor-advised funds have also come under criticism, she said, because donors can use them to maximize charitable contributions on their tax returns.
"When you give to a donor-advised fund, it's the same principle as you're giving money that's going to be directed to charity," Young said. "What a fund enables you to do is put it in a place where it's going to be directed to a charity. It might be that people are looking to maximize their charitable donations. They give every year, then they decide maybe to give a lump sum to a donor-advised fund, then give that away over the next five years."
Meaning, she said, the tax write-off would be based on the entire lump sum even though the money isn't actually being given out to organizations all at once.
However, Young added, it's unfair to have a cynical view of how the funds are handled.
"Not all of the donor-advised funds are the same," she said, adding that all philanthropy should be applauded. "It's a disservice to paint them with a wide brush that they're all the same, because they're not."
Even so, the donations from donor-advised funds are still for the benefit of nonprofit organizations, which is much appreciated, said Jennifer Lockwood Fritts, director of community engagement for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank in a Thursday phone interview.
"[The Hullanders] have not donated to the food bank previously, but we are incredibly grateful for the donation they made for Fork it Over," Fritts said. "Matt Hullander came and helped served food and wine at Feed Table and Tavern, and we raised over $57,000 dollars that night."
The Hullander Family Foundation donated $2,500, she said.
Brett Marciel, spokesperson for the Jason Foundation, which works to prevent suicide in youth and young adults, said in a Thursday phone interview that Hullander "has done wonders for us."
"Matt has fully accepted our mission, and once he heard what we do — we provide programs to teachers, students, families, the whole community — he has passionately accepted our mission and has done a lot for us."
Marciel did not readily have the totals of the donations, but he said Hullander has been an active donor for about five years, which helps give them more resources to spread awareness about suicide prevention.
Chloe Hasden, program coordinator for the Isaiah 117 House, said in a Thursday phone interview the organization received a first-time donation from Hullander last year but declined to disclose the amount. The organization provides services to children awaiting placement in foster care.
"Those funds let us never have to turn a child away," Hasden said of Hullander and others' donations.
The other two candidates for the Republican primary (the only one that's contested on May 3) said they also do plenty to give back to the community in Thursday phone interviews.
Mayoral candidate Weston Wamp, R-Chattanooga, said a lot of his family focus has been supporting Young Life, a youth ministry that operates in local high schools and schools across the world.
"It's a ministry that helped me out a lot as a young person and changed my life," Wamp said. "I've chaired their local golf tournament for seven years. We give thousands of dollars personally per year to Young Life, but we've raised a lot through the golf tournament and other fundraising activities."
Wamp, who also serves on the Chattanooga Young Life Committee, said that on average, the golf tournaments bring in about $50,000.
Wamp's family also commits $1,000 annually to the The Forgotten Child Fund, he said.
Hamilton County Commission chair Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, said she gives frequently but likes to keep it anonymous because "there's more joy" in that process. She said she did not want to disclose dollars figures.
"I've supported giving to veterans, I've supported giving to widows, I've supported giving to the fight against cancer, the kidney foundation, there's a number of them," she said. "If it's a good cause and I'm aware and there's an opportunity for me to support it, I will."