When I originally wrote the blurb in our 2014 Best of Maui issue for the Best Environmental Nonprofit, I wrote that the SHAKA Movement–which won the readers poll–was actually not a nonprofit. In fact, they are a nonprofit–you can see their Domestic Nonprofit Corporation status in their filing here with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA)–and I’ve since corrected and updated the blurb.
But I wanted to explain why I made the error, because it points to what I consider an important lack of disclosure on the part of the SHAKA Movement. When I first got the results of our Best of Maui readers poll, I went online to look into what I could on the well-reported activist group, which seeks to ban genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from Maui County. First I found their own website, which makes no mention of any tax-exempt status and doesn’t ever describe the organization as a nonprofit.
Second, I checked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) online search engine for tax-exempt charities, and found no mention of the SHAKA Movement (though their absence from that database may, to be fair, be due to their only forming in May). But I also checked the Hawaii Attorney General’s online charity database, and again found no mention of the organization.
So when SHAKA Movement activist Sam Small called me on Wednesday, July 23 and asked for a correction, I told him that I could find no evidence of their tax-exempt status. He said he’d get back to me, and has yet to do so. But after I got off the phone, I did two things I should have done before Best of Maui went to print. First, check the DCCA’s database of corporations in the state, which confirmed that SHAKA Movement is indeed a Domestic Nonprofit Corporation. Second, I contacted the state Attorney General’s office and asked them for guidance. That was most interesting because it turns out that their absence from the state charities database is indeed a problem.
“We will send the organization our standard form letter educating them about our agency’s registration requirements, etc.,” Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones, who leads that agency’s Tax and Charities Division, wrote in July 23 email. “Thanks for bringing this to my attention.”
So in conclusion, the State of Hawaii does recognize the SHAKA Movement as a nonprofit corporation, but the organization needs to do a better job of disclosing who and what they are to members of the public.