Fort Worth

Tarrant tax man references Hitler while cutting ties to United Way

Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright
Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright Courtesy

Two of Tarrant County’s elected officials no longer will encourage employees to donate to — or help raise money for — the United Way of Tarrant County.

They say the social services organization that raises money for local nonprofits has ties to Planned Parenthood, although they acknowledge United Way doesn’t contribute any of its own money to the women’s health and birth control center.

“This is a stain on what is otherwise a very worthy organization,” said Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright, whose office will not raise money for the United Way this year. “People with United Way remind me of the enormous good they do in the community. And they do. Supporters of Planned Parenthood will say it too does enormous good in the community as well.

“I will remind all of them that Hitler made the trains run on time,” he said. “The good that’s being done doesn’t compensate for the evil that’s being done by Planned Parenthood.”

I will remind all of them that Hitler made the trains run on time.

Tarrant County Tax Assessor and Collector Ron Wright

At issue is money that donors send to the local United Way, asking the organization to pass along the funding to Planned Parenthood.

During fiscal year 2014, about $9,300 that was earmarked for Planned Parenthood was sent to the local United Way, said Tim McKinney, CEO of the United Way of Tarrant County.

“That $9,300 is out of donor designations of $7.1 million and total revenue of over $31 million,” McKinney said. “It’s one tenth of one percent.”

But that one tenth of one percent is too much for Wright and Tarrant County Commissioner Andy Nguyen, who have chosen different charitable groups for their offices to contribute to this year. In past years the offices would hold events designed to raise money for the United Way.

The United Way of Tarrant County is hoping to raise $30 million this year through its annual workplace campaign, grants and other sources, officials said.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said he has only heard of the two county officials withdrawing support for the United Way.

Other county departments will continue to raise money for United Way, which relies heavily on workforce campaigns for its fundraising.

“I plan to continue to support the United Way because I believe very strongly in the priorities the board has set,” Whitley said. “I know the United Way over the years has been requested by some of the employers to allow their individual employees to donate to organizations outside what they contribute to.

“Personally, I don’t support Planned Parenthood, so certainly my dollars would never have been designated there,” he said. “I appreciate their willingness to be open to those kind of requests.”

I hope that folks will continue to support United Way and their effort to help people throughout the county.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley

The issue is getting attention outside of county offices.

An email by Direct Action Texas was sent out this week encouraging locals to contact county officials about the matter.

“The battle for life is at the forefront of the voter’s minds with the national spotlight on Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills,” the email stated. “If we can’t stand for life here in Tarrant County, how do we expect others to do so in DC or Austin?”

United Way campaigns

Tarrant County employees have long participated in the United Way’s workforce campaign, where they can sign up to have contributions to the agency automatically withdrawn every time they get paid.

They also hold a variety of fundraisers — barbecues, bake sales and more — to donate to the United Way.

As individuals, the employees can choose to have the money go to whatever need United Way determines is the greatest or they can pick a specific need. The employees can also designate their donation to a nonprofit that is not supported by the United Way, such as Planned Parenthood.

No county taxpayer dollars are used to match donations and no county donation is made to United Way, Whitley said.

When Wright became tax-assessor collector in 2011, he asked if the United Way of Tarrant County still funds Planned Parenthood. Officials say the United Way hasn’t funded Planned Parenthood in decades.

Then Wright saw a news article earlier this year stating that United Way still accepts funds earmarked for Planned Parenthood and passes them along to the center.

Planned Parenthood controversy

Planned Parenthood has been in the midst of a months-long controversy since undercover videos prepared by abortion opponents were released this summer. The videos show, among other things, employees negotiating in a casual manner about fetal tissue donations.

“Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the United States,” Wright said. “The issues surrounding Planned Parenthood are toxic.

“I’m not going to support any organization that supports or aids Planned Parenthood in any way,” he said. “Period.”

So he created an employee committee to determine what local charity should instead receive his office’s charitable contributions. They picked Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County and hope to raise around $5,000.

Wright said he spoke with local United Way officials who “deflect by trivializing” the money passed through and given to Planned Parenthood.

“They say it’s such a small amount of money compared to their total,” he said. “But would they trivialize it if the money were going to the Ku Klux Klan?

“In my opinion, that’s the moral equivalent.”

Wright said United Way forms are still available in his office. Any employee who asks for a form can receive one and still contribute to United Way if they want.

“What we aren’t doing … is having the office wide fundraiser or office wide push [for United Way]. This year, it will be for Meals on Wheels.”

Planned Parenthood is not a partner agency of the United Way of Tarrant County.

‘Should not be a divisive issue’

Nguyen shares Wright’s concern about the money donated through United Way for Planned Parenthood.

“The main reason is the flow-through revenue,” he said. “I, and several key staff, have personal concerns with this.”

Charitable contributions in general, he said, are done on “a volunteer basis. If my employees want to donate directly to United Way, that’s their choice. I won’t stand in their way.”

But he won’t dedicate funds from additional fundraisers held by his office to the United Way. Instead, those funds raised will go to the local Salvation Army.

“I do not want to be associated indirectly or directly with Planned Parenthood in any way,” Nguyen said. “Planned Parenthood is well known for conducting abortions.

“This should not be a divisive issue,” he said. “This is a personal choice that each person has to make.”

The United Way of Tarrant County is hoping to raise $30 million this year through its annual workplace campaign, grants and other sources.

‘I’m very disappointed’

McKinney said he knows Wright and Nguyen won’t change their minds.

“If they feel like they can’t contribute to the United Way this year because of our alleged association with Planned Parenthood, that’s their right,” he said. “I’m very disappointed though.”

McKinney said the local United Way chapter isn’t the only one that allows funds to be passed through to non-partner agencies.

Any agency that passes along similar donations that don’t total $5,000 doesn’t have to identify those donations on their tax return.

“Other United Ways in Texas receive [similar] pass through donations, just not over $5,000,” McKinney said.

Whitley said he respects the decision Wright and Nguyen made. But he also supports the work the United Way does in Tarrant County.

“I hope that folks will continue to support United Way and their effort to help people throughout the county,” he said.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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