Watchdog group: Bremer Foundation trustee pay 'outrageous'

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A national philanthropy watchdog group is calling for a state investigation into the management of one of the region's biggest charitable foundations.

MPR News reports that the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. wants Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson to investigate the St. Paul-based Otto Bremer Foundation.

The philanthropy oversight group said that pay for three trustees who oversee the foundation's $800 million in assets is out of line. According to records filed with the state, the trustees paid themselves more than $1.2 million in 2013. Brian Lipschultz received $466,198, Daniel Reardon $465,313 and Charlotte Johnson $294,000. In 2004, the three trustees received combined payment of nearly $125,000, a figure that has grown nearly 10 times in 10 years.

The trustees declined MPR's multiple requests for comment.

Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the NCRP, told MPR that trustees at most charitable foundations, if paid at all, earn a median annual salary of $24,000.

"It's just an outrageously high level of compensation for trustee service," Dorfman said.

Last year, the Otto Bremer Foundation gave away more than $38 million some 150 charities, non-profit organizations and government agencies in communities in the Upper Midwest where Bremer Banks are located. Just this month, the Marshall Independent reported that the foundation gave $172,000 in grants to the Marshall-Lyon County Library and adult literacy programs in southwest Minnesota, the Mille Lacs County Times had the story that the foundation gave a $47,000 grant to fund renovation efforts for the Milaca Band Shell, and the Bismarck Tribune said funds from the foundation will allow The Banquet, a social service agency that serves free meals, to expand its weekly offerings.

The Business Journal explained that the Otto Bremer Foundation is also the holding company that owns Bremer Bank, which has nearly 2,000 employees at its locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

Randi Roth, the foundation's executive director, was fired earlier this month. "Now the three trustees are splitting that job as co-CEOs. Dorfman said putting both managerial and fiduciary control of the organization in just a few hands removes accountability and violates commonly accepted good governance principles that most foundations follow," MPR said.

The 1944 trust that established the foundation gives the trustees the power to manage and operate it. The trust says the trustees, if they choose, can be paid up to four percent of the foundation's cash income. Though the trustees pay has grown, it's under that level.

A spokesman for Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson would not say if the office plans to investigate.

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