Banks Take Heat for 'Mediocre' Charitable Programs

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A philanthropy watchdog group blasted four of the nation's biggest banks on Thursday for what it called their lackluster charitable-giving programs.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, an independent watchdog of institutional philanthropy, argued in a report released Thursday that the charitable activities of Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS), and Wells Fargo (WFC) fail to meet best practices in generosity and transparency. And the report says that these programs represent an attempt by the banks to burnish their images and gain influence in Washington.

"These guys brag about their philanthropy on Capitol Hill, and it's our job to make sure lawmakers don't get bamboozled and that they complete the job of financial reform," said the NCRP's field director, Sean Dobson, who wrote the report.

The banks named in the report dispute its conclusions.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman said that "JPMorgan Chase and its foundation donate over $200 million to causes in the U.S. and around the world," and that the firm is "proud" of its charitable activities. In an emailed statement, a Bank of America spokesman said that "this report inaccurately portrays our commitment to improving the communities we serve."

The report criticized in particular the opacity of the banks' giving. Dobson wrote that none of the four banks "describe or review exactly which charities have received grants from their respective corporate treasuries."

Wells Fargo's head of philanthropy Tim Hanlon disputed this charge.

"Countless times we've provided lists of organizations that have received our grants. Had the NCRP asked for such a report, we would have gladly given it to them," Hanlon said in a statement. "We generally provide them to anyone who asks."

Goldman Sachs, which Dobson called "especially miserly," declined to comment.

The NCRP also claims that both Wells Fargo and Bank of America tried to represent multi-billion-dollar environmental-lending programs, which included a smaller portion of grants, as philanthropic initiatives.

A Bank of America representative said that the June press release announcing its $50 billion program accurately describes the company's program, which included $100 million in grants and loans for environmental groups and nonprofits.

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