By T. D. Thornton
As donations continue to pour in to aid victims of the Dec. 7 fire at San Luis Rey Downs that killed 46 horses, displaced hundreds of workers, and critically injured several rescuers, charity administrators, racing industry executives, and the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) are coordinating efforts to ensure that aid money is spent wisely, quickly, and in compliance with tax laws.
As a result of this quick cooperation, charity payments will start flowing on Friday to workers affected by the fire.
The Dec. 14 CHRB monthly meeting was dominated by off-agenda items pertaining to the fire recovery efforts. Although the oversight of donated money does not directly fall under the auspices of the state’s racing regulatory board, the involved California parties underscored they are making a collective effort to ensure their actions are in line with the wishes of the CHRB.
“It seems like such an easy thing to do to give away money, and it is not,” said CHRB commissioner Madeline Auerbach, who is also part of the independent committee formed to oversee donations from the GoFundMe initiative that to date has raised $637,000 to help fire victims.
“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, it’s GoFundMe and you get the money right away,'” Auerbach testified at the meeting. “It is not, because we’re talking about a significant amount of money, and it takes days to actually get that money out.”
The practice of “crowd funding” via the internet to help disaster victims has spiked over the past several years. But as this method of donating has grown in popularity, so too have reports detailing how some recipients of charity money are being hit with unexpected tax bills from the Internal Revenue Service. Others eligible for funding in the wake of recent tragedies in America are being targeted by scammers.
To both expedite the payment process and to safeguard against unintended consequences, the San Luis Rey fire relief GoFundMe committee has worked out an arrangement with the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation, Inc. (CTHF) to move all of the donated GoFundMe money under the umbrella of the CTHF’s 501 (c) (3) registered charitable trust.
As a result, CTHF executive director Cliff Goodrich explained, his organization will be able to start making payments to victims on Dec. 15, just eight days after the fire.
“Tomorrow, plans are underway to distribute checks to 20 San Luis Rey Downs trainers and cash to some 200 workers impacted by the fire, regardless of degree,” Goodrich said.
“This is the initial give-out of the money,” Auerbach said. “Everybody will be treated in exactly the same fashion in getting these funds to try and get their lives back in order.”
Later on, Goodrich added, “those more seriously harmed can come down the road [for additional assistance consideration] as we learn about individual situations.”
Besides Auerbach and Goodrich, others on the GoFundMe committee are Nate Newby, Santa Anita Park’s vice president of marketing; David Jerkens, the racing secretary for Del Mar Thoroughbred Club; Alan Balch, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, and Rick Hammerle, the vice president of racing for Santa Anita.
“We think we have an eclectic mix of people who are probably in the best position to address these concerns,” Auerbach said. “In no way is the management or ownership of The Stronach Group involved in this, and in no way is the management and ownership group of Del Mar involved with getting these funds out. We have given [control] to a group of people who do not have to go through lengthy committees. Our main objective, and the objective of people who gave us the money, is to get it into the hands of the people who need it the most.”
Goodrich said the CTHF has hired legal counsel “to ensure we are acting properly and correctly [and] that we are not acting against the intended purposes of our charter, as more entities will require financial assistance than just the normal categories of trainers and workers that we have historically serviced.”
Auerbach also cautioned that even as the racing community unites to help fire victims, financial predators are lurking to try and get their hands on charity money by illegal means.
When a separate rash of wildfires scorched northern California earlier this year, Auerbach said state and federal officials noted “a tremendous amount of people looking to scam the system.” She detailed how at least one trainer she knows whose name was made public as a victim during the earlier fires had someone apply for relief in his name in an unsuccessful attempt to divert federal relief money.
“I don’t want to throw a blanket over things but…please be aware that there are some people around us who are not really part of our community who are trying to make things more difficult than they already are,” Auerbach said.
“But I don’t want to close on a down note,” Auerbach continued. “I want to close on a high note and tell you all how grateful we are [for the GoFundMe donations and other forms of industry cooperation], and you have to let us know if we are not taking care of things.”