The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers Foundation
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers Foundation is approved by the IRS as a 501(c)3, tax-exempt charitable organization. The nonpartisan CO$T Foundation serves the public by focusing on voter and taxpayer education, government transparency, fiscal responsibility, and agency accountability. The Foundation sponsors non-partisan, educational activities about civic issues, legislation, and local elections. In addition, the Foundation acts as a watchdog: it monitors whether the local taxes are spent as promised and efficiently; and it ensures that Marin’s local governments are transparent, follow best governance practices, and comply with the law and all statutory procedures.
The CO$T Foundation’s activities include:
- Taxpayer information about government and utility tax and fee exemptions and discounts. The Foundation’s most appreciated public service is its annual county-wide communication to Marin residents alerting them to the numerous exemptions and discounts available from local agencies to help eligible individuals reduce their local taxes, fees, and utility bills. We research, compile and publish the information to serve Marin’s seniors and low- to moderate-income residents, as well as individuals with disabilities and certain medical conditions. Our annual e-bulletin lists the many agencies and entities that offer such programs, provides information about eligibility, applications and deadlines, updates contact information, and, through live links, connects residents directly to the relevant application forms. The e-bulletin also informs people about how to find the most affordable PG&E plan. Every year CO$T receives thanks from Marin residents in need, who are grateful for the information and the easy access we provide to the complicated array of available exemptions and discounts.
- Voter education through online events. As another public service, the Foundation hosts impartial, moderated forums for candidates for office and presents free, non-partisan webinars on hot-button local issues. These popular events have included hosting debates between candidates running for the State Assembly, Marin County Supervisor and other local Marin offices. Due to the many requests we receive from the public and from candidates, CO$T expects to increase the number of these events to cover a larger set of important local races and ballot measures.
The CO$T Foundation also hosts issue webinars, such as an extremely well attended housing forum. This event attracted attendees from across the Bay Area and featured prominent state and local officials who discussed the impact of new and anticipated California housing legislation on local communities. Most of our webinars feature the Marin Independent Journal’s well-respected political columnist Dick Spotswood as moderator.
- Community events featuring expert speakers. The CO$T Foundation hosts free, public receptions and lectures featuring a prominent subject-matter expert to explain complex topics such as public pensions. We film the event (with professional videographers) and post it on our website to ensure that the information is available to the public at large.
- Local government oversight. The CO$T Foundation monitors local agencies to ensure that they operate on principles of good governance, that they are transparent, and that their public communications and disclosures meet the highest standards of completeness, accuracy, fairness and clarity. On the public’s behalf, we check agencies’ compliance with the sunshine laws and other public, voter, and taxpayer protection statutes. The Foundation’s goal is to encourage best practices in local government at all levels. Our work involves many activities, including the following examples:
- In recent years we have sent both informal and formal objections to local agencies in instances where we felt that their communications or proposals were not fully transparent, balanced or understandable. In most instances, we succeeded in resolving the complaint.
- Through close reading of legislative materials, we have found errors in local ballot language, authorizing ordinances, and draft legislation. In these cases we have notified the jurisdictions to correct the mistake or, if it is too late, we have convinced them to send out additional communications to rectify the misinformation.
- We monitor the agendas, meetings, and minutes of many government entities such as town councils, school districts, agencies, and special districts to alert the public to any significant tax or spending issues that might be up for discussion or action in these jurisdictions. Marin has a multiplicity of public agencies and taxing authorities (152 at last count) and we know that in many cases, the public is not aware of their activities.
- We have pursued violations of the Brown Act (i.e, communications between a majority of agency board members outside of a properly noticed board meeting). And we have highlighted agency practices that were less than fully transparent. We have videotaped and posted online public meetings of the Marin Municipal Water District, which was unwilling to videotape its own board and committee meetings; this successfully put pressure on the agency to properly film, livestream, and make available a video record of their proceedings.
- We continually advocate for disabled, homebound and medically vulnerable persons’ rights to full and equal participation in public meetings, including live virtual participation. Where necessary we have provided, at our own expense, a video record of difficult to attend meetings.
- We help provide qualified representatives to official oversight committees and boards. A number of CO$T’s Board Members sit on, or have sat on, Citizens’ Oversight Committees of large agencies such as the Transportation Authority of Marin, and the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority. Several members of CO$T’s leadership have been members of the Marin County Civil Grand Jury while others have financial expertise or have served as elected officials. These CO$T leaders bring their watchdog skills, investigative experience, and broad knowledge of county affairs to help steer the CO$T Foundation’s oversight activities.
- In many instances, when our watchdog activities have uncovered a problem, we have been able to reach an amicable resolution with agency cooperation and we have effected lasting changes in various agencies policies and procedures.
- In one instance, our concerns over an agency’s rate-setting process and its inequitable results were not resolved through the usual course of informal discussion with the agency, nor through our legal team’s formal complaint. Demonstrating our commitment to fairness and the public interest, we filed suit on behalf of the agency’s ratepayers in order to clarify important legal issues involved; this case may go to the state supreme court.
How to Donate to the COST Foundation
Checks to CO$T’s 501(c)3 should be written to
“Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers Foundation”
Mail to P.O. Box 253, Kentfield, CA 94914
Donations to the CO$T Foundation are tax deductible, if you itemize deductions. Consult your tax preparer if in doubt.
These Foundation donations are vital to our educational, research, and legal activities. The Foundation cannot support candidates for office and is limited in the extent to which its funds can be used for activities such as supporting or opposing ballot measures. (This contrasts with our 501(c)4, “Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers” entity which can fund a broader range of activities.)
Donating to the Foundation is a great way to support many of our important activities while enjoying the benefit of a tax deduction. Giving to the Foundation can be especially appealing to wealthy donors making large contributions.
Those who don’t itemize deductions on their tax returns may consider donating to CO$T (rather than the CO$T Foundation), as that can fund a wider range of activities.
We also welcome stock donations.
Donations to our 501(c)3 CO$T Foundation Fidelity account:
Fidelity’s DTC # is 0226
Our account is in the name “Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers Foundation”.
Our account number is Z40-008342 (Note that the first digit of that account is Z like Zebra, NOT the numeral Two).