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Is This Suburban New York Charity a Terrorist Front Group?

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Joseph Simonson(Free Beacon)

At first glance, the Westchester Peace Action Committee Foundation (WESPAC) seems unremarkable: a sleepy community organization with just one part-time staffer, a modest office in White Plains, N.Y., and little by way of public events.

But the group raked in $2.4 million in 2022—more than three times as much as it raised in 2020, according to public tax filings. The charity in 2022 spent nearly $1.5 million on “office expenses,” a category the IRS says should only cover “supplies, telephone, postage.”

“This is all very strange, it seems like they’re trying to obfuscate what they’re really spending their money on,” said former IRS tax law specialist and nonprofit consultant Patrick Sternal. “This doesn’t look like a particularly transparent organization, this filing raises all sorts of questions.”

A new lawsuit could point to some answers.

In May, families of the victims of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel filed suit against National Students for Justice in Palestine and American Muslims for Palestine, both of which, the plaintiffs allege, are “collaborators and propagandists for Hamas.” Buried in the suit is a brief reference to WESPAC, which the suit names as the “official ‘fiscal sponsor'” of National Students for Justice in Palestine.

“The financial interactions between WESPAC and its anti-Israel clientele is intentionally opaque to largely shield from public view the flow of funds between and among them,” the lawsuit reads.

Fiscal sponsorships are IRS-designated arrangements in which parent organizations accept donations on behalf of their subsidiaries. Legally speaking, there is no distinction between WESPAC and National Students for Justice in Palestine. If the latter is indeed proven to be a Hamas collaborator, the former would be as well.

The IRS created the “fiscal sponsorship” designation so that established charities could help incubate new initiatives that would spin off into their own independent organizations after a certain period of time. But in recent years, fiscal sponsorships have become a critical tool for left-wing activists and donors such as George Soros and Pierre Omidyar to quickly mobilize “grassroots” campaigns on hot-button issues while hiding donors behind the causes.

For decades, WESPAC’s fiscal sponsorship has helped it to avoid scrutiny leveled at similar groups. According to its annual tax filings, WESPAC is just a small charity devoted to “current affairs education.” The group has even managed to remain under the radar as fiscal sponsorships connected to the left-wing Tides Foundation have been linked to a number of illegal protests.

WESPAC was founded in 1974 by Connie Hogarth, an environmental activist whose political activities drew congressional scrutiny in the 1980s.

Records located at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests show that organizations with which Hogarth associated, such as the National Advisory Council of Peace Links, were identified by intelligence officials as “Soviet-controlled front organizations.” Those records also describe WESPAC as “strongly” influenced by the Communist Party of the United States.

“Historically, a lot of these fiscal sponsors have some historical relationship to foreign influence networks that never seem to have gone away,” said Kyle Shideler, the director and senior analyst for homeland security and counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy.

Since at least 2016, WESPAC has been the fiscal sponsor of National Students for Justice in Palestine, a leading force behind the anti-Israel protests held across the country since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. Lawmakers from both parties have described much of the group’s messaging as anti-Semitic and supportive of Islamic terrorist groups.

According to WESPAC’s latest tax filing, the group employs just a single part-time staff member: Ainsley Zimmer, an administrative assistant and digital media coordinator who makes less than six figures and receives no health care or retirement benefits. On her LinkedIn profile, Zimmer says WESPAC oversees nearly “a dozen partner organizations.” Those fiscal sponsorships include National Students for Justice in Palestine and Adalah-New York: Campaign for the Boycott of Israel.

WESPAC has seen a triple-digit increase in donations since 2020, when the charity raised just $635,678. The next year, WESPAC raised more than $1 million and, in 2022, nearly $2.4 million—the most money since its founding.

It is impossible to say where most of that money came from or where it went, as federal law does not require charities to disclose their donors. Nor is it easy to say where that money goes.

WESPAC says it spends zero dollars on grants or fundraising fees, and none of its board members or executive leadership collect a salary. Of the $1.5 million the group spent on “office expenses,” the group’s largest reported expenditure in 2022 is $366,457 for “management and general expenses.”

The charity claims it spent no money on travel, information technology, legal services, insurance, rent, or mortgage payments in 2022. WESPAC claims to have donated just $37,777 to unknown recipients. The group reported similar expenses in 2021, when it claimed to have spent more than $650,000 on office supplies like pencils and printer paper.

“Spending 82 percent of the budget on ‘office expenses’ is highly suspicious behavior for a nonprofit that reports paying just one employee while spending $0 on ‘occupancy,'” said Capital Research Center investigative researcher Parker Thayer. “WESPAC could be hiding any number of things under the umbrella ‘office expenses,’ and it absolutely warrants scrutiny from the relevant authorities.”

“You have to think that if these sort of discrepancies were found in any business other than politics, the IRS would have been hauling off all their stuff in boxes long ago,” Shideler said.

Repeated calls to WESPAC’s White Plains, N.Y., headquarters during business hours went unanswered. WESPAC did not respond to a request for comment via email either.

It is not clear why National Students for Justice in Palestine relies on WESPAC’s stewardship. But the group has gone out of its way to distance itself from the charity.

National Students for Justice in Palestine claimed to the New York Times that it is merely “a loosely connected network of autonomous chapters” and that it has “never registered as a nonprofit” and “has never had to file tax documents.” In reality, the group is a legal extension of WESPAC, which files tax forms on its behalf.

The group told the Washington Post last month that WESPAC “neither funds nor influences our organization’s political activity but instead extends its legal tax-exempt status to us in order to support our mission.” No National Students for Justice in Palestine members, according to WESPAC’s financial disclosures, receive any payment from the charity and go to great lengths to remain anonymous.

National Students for Justice in Palestine did not respond to a request for comment.

The group’s cofounder, Hatem Al Bazian, also serves as the chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, which describes itself as a “leading national organization in the intersectional Palestine solidarity movement” and is a co-party in the Hamas terror victim lawsuit. American Muslims for Palestine is fiscally sponsored by the Americans for Justice in Palestine Education Foundation.

National Students for Justice in Palestine and American Muslims for Palestine regularly cohost events, including the former’s annual conference. American Muslims for Palestine did not respond to a request for comment as to why the two organizations share the same founder and host events together but have different fiscal sponsors.

The Oct. 7 lawsuit claims that the two groups coordinate messaging with international terrorist organizations and carry out orders for “an economic blockade … in solidarity with Palestinians.” American Muslims for Palestine is simultaneously facing a 2017 lawsuit to recoup a $156 million judgment from the parents of a victim of a 1996 terrorist attack in Jerusalem after the nonprofit was found liable in his death.

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