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Inside the Uproar Over Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Archewell Foundation

A letter on a public registry about the Archewell Foundation caused criticism so intense that Governor Gavin Newsom got involved. “It was a very typical, technical issue around paperwork,” he said in a recent press conference.

Archewell Foundation

Photo: Getty

After a few days of confusion over the status of the Archewell Foundation, the charity started by Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in 2021, the matter might have been definitively settled by the intervention of California governor Gavin Newsom during a press conference on Tuesday. At the podium during a Tuesday visit to a behavioral health center in San Mateo, the governor began by praising the work the charity has done before criticizing the media coverage of a recent delinquency notice letter sent by the office of the state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta.

“Archewell Foundation—run by Meghan Markle and Prince Harry—do extraordinary work, particularly [for] women and girls, but notably around mental health,” said Newsom. “I just want folks to know, not only are they in compliance, it was a technical paperwork issue that was wildly overhyped. With respect, I hope people that ran those headlines run this headline, that it was a very typical, technical issue around paperwork that persists for so many others as well.”

The controversy started when Page Six released a Monday report about the letter with the headline: “Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s foundation can’t raise money after California AG finds charity is ‘delinquent.’” Though a physical copy of the letter was sent to the foundation in the care of attorney Richard M. Genow on May 3, a digital version was later uploaded to the CA Department of Justice’s public Registry of Charities and Fundraisers. A source close to the foundation told Vanity Fair that the news of a potential status issue came as a surprise to the foundation itself, as the foundation filed their annual report and sent a check to the office via tracked mail, and it led them to contact Bonta’s office for clarification.

It was an unusual step for a governor to get involved in a dispute over paperwork, but in his comments, Newsom gave a clue as to why he chimed in. “They’re in full compliance, and they’re a celebrated organization that does great work in the state of California,” he said. “So I wanted to clarify that, because that’s important, and I just thought there was a little bit of a piling on that was deeply unfair.”

A spokesperson for the AG’s office also said that the matter had been resolved. “After being in touch with our Registry of Charities and Fundraisers, the organization is current and in good standing,” the spokesperson said via email.

In a statement after the Registry of Charities and Fundraisers updated Archewell’s status to “current” on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the charity explained the situation and denied missteps on their part. “We have diligently investigated the situation and can confirm that the Archewell Foundation remains fully compliant and in good standing,” the statement reads. “Due payments were made promptly and in accordance with the IRS’s processes and procedures. Furthermore, all necessary paperwork had been filed by the Foundation without error or wrongdoing.”

According to Michael Thatcher, CEO of nonprofit evaluator Charity Navigator, the idea of a paperwork mishap or processing delay is “totally plausible.” In a charity filing system, there are multiple ways that something can go wrong without malintent. “There’s human error that can go into the filing of the documents,” he added. “There’s human error in the receiving and processing. Knowing where things went wrong is going to be really difficult.”

There are special circumstances in California that could have caused further complications. Last year, a new charity law went into effect, and its regulations are still being rolled out by the AG’s office. Called Assembly Bill 488, it was passed in 2021 in an attempt to increase regulatory oversight of what the legislation called “charitable fundraising platforms.” The state is due to roll out an online filing system eventually, but as of right now, they are still relying entirely on paper filings. That might explain the delay and the discrepancy between the dates on Archewell’s paperwork.

Thatcher said that regulatory changes often lead to compliance issues and the recent California change has affected a wide variety of charities operating in the state. “The rules have changed and the enforcement has changed, so there’s this uncomfortable adjustment period…. On the other side, clearly, I don’t think anybody wants those kinds of delays, and that’s not great operating procedures,” he said. “California is trying to figure things out on their end.”

The positive words from Newsom don’t mean that everything about the charity’s future has been settled. Thatcher noted that Charity Navigator only evaluates organizations after they have been around for three years, because the early years of a charity can be a start-up phase. But in the future, the composition of Archewell’s board of directors could cause issues when it comes to sustainability. In their 2022 filing, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are the only listed board members, but best practice in the industry is that boards should also include independent members for oversight.

Thatcher added that the series of events has been a reminder about the importance of compliance for charities across the board. “This has been an expensive filing error, given the media and just how much attention it’s drawn, which probably has little to do with what the foundation’s trying to achieve from a mission perspective,” he said.

He also emphasized that documents like a delinquency notice should be the beginning of an investigation for the media and donors, not the end. “I had a donor say this to me once: Even charities are innocent until proven guilty. So in other words, give them the benefit of the doubt and verify,” he said. “Whenever there’s an anomaly, it doesn’t mean don’t give, it means ask questions.”

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