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The Helen K. and James S. Copley Foundation has continued its years-long downward spiral, according to the non-profit's public accounting for 2011, filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service on August 23 of this year.

The tax-free foundation, funded by the late Union-Tribune publisher Helen Copley and her husband James, who died in 1973, was once a powerhouse among San Diego charities. Just four years ago, it boasted total net assets of $18,082,457.

By the end of 2011, though, the foundation's assets had plunged to $5,454,476, down from $7,138,374 twelve months before.

Last year's income was $153,396, all from interest and dividends; the charity received no contributions.

The future of the foundation has been further clouded by the passing of its president, David Copley, who died Tuesday after suffering an apparent heart attack and crashing his Aston Martin in La Jolla. He was 60.

The last member of the Copley dynasty, he had presided over the dismantling of the Copley Press, for years one of the city's most powerful institutions.

Since the death of his mother in 2004, Copley has repeatedly tapped the foundation to pay for his personal philanthropy, including $2 million in cash bequests to the new downtown public library and a $6 million pledge in 2008 to endow UCLA's David C. Copley Chair for the Study of Costume Design and the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design in Brentwood.

According to an account in U-T San Diego, formerly known as the San Diego Union-Tribune, Copley's friendship with Animal House director Jon Landis and his wife, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, had something to do with that hefty out-of-town gift. Nadoolman Landis is the Copley center's founding director and professor in chief.

The Copley foundation has also picked up the tab for a $5 million multi-year pledge to the Sharp Healthcare Foundation and a similar $3 million pledge to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, according to the IRS filings.

Copley received a heart transplant at Sharp in 2005.

Without any replacement funds for the foundation's distributions, its assets have continued to shrink.

Last year's total payout to charity was $1,853,142, according to the IRS filing.

In addition to its annual pledge obligations, the foundation's gifts included $50,000 to underwrite a San Diego Symphony recital by violinist Itzhak Perlman; $75,000 to the San Diego Crew Classic's Copley Cup; and $10,000 to pay for the Copley Directors' Fund at the Old Globe Theatre.

The San Diego Rescue Mission got $1,000.

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Visduh Nov. 25, 2012 @ 7:31 a.m.

Without a detailed review of the financials it is impossible to be certain, but this seems to indicate that the foundation has not done well with its investments, and is generating only small income. $153,000 of income on more than $5,000,000 of assets is a tiny return even in this environment. Reading between the lines, the pattern of giving was aimed principally at boosting David's ego, and not much for the truly needy. In short, David's personal piggy bank for giving to his friends and those who pretended to like him.


Scott Marks Nov. 25, 2012 @ 8:18 a.m.

There's a lot to be said about someone based on the company they keep. Isn't John Landis the "director" who, in order to get a better angle, dropped a helicopter on Vic Morrow and two children while filming "Twilight Zone: The Movie?" The guy should have been jailed and had his career taken from him and instead he's helping a pampered do-nothing erect more monuments to himself. It's a big, wide, wonderful world we live in.


Bob_Hudson Nov. 25, 2012 @ 8:45 a.m.

It's "Copley" money and a Copley gave it away as he saw fit - gee what a shock! Maybe the READER publisher's foundation can pick up the slack..... :)

Seriously Matt, articles like this come across as petty-minded class warfare inspired by jealously that someone you don't like was able to make contributions to the community.


Visduh Nov. 25, 2012 @ 7:35 p.m.

His "contributions to the community" included publishing a newspaper that promoted boondoggles and misdirection of resources, ignored local corruption, and shortchanged the local subscribers of plenty of real news. That foundation was set up to avoid taxes, and it still avoids them. Yet the list of recipients includes the theater program at UCLA (is that the community to which you refer?) and some other similar artsy operations, not all of which are even in San Diego County.

No, Bob, this is what they call news reporting. Today's U-T San Diego had a long paean to David and his interest in the arts. All well, I suppose, except that he used tax free dollars to support whatever, wherever, "floated his boat."


dotinga Nov. 25, 2012 @ 9:04 p.m.

Landis was tried and acquitted in connection with the Twilight Zone filming deaths. http://articles.latimes.com/1987-05-29/news/mn-2189_1_helicopter-crash

In Copley's defense, the U-T avoided layoffs much longer than many other papers in the late 2000s. And while he certainly lived a jet-setter lifestyle, he was clearly a very generous man.

When it comes to wealthy newspaper publishers, we could have done a whole lot worse. And perhaps we will.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 26, 2012 @ 3:16 a.m.

Landis was tried and acquitted in connection with the Twilight Zone filming deaths. http://articles.latimes.com/1987-05-29/news/mn-2189_1_helicopter-crash ... And while he certainly lived a jet-setter lifestyle, he was clearly a very generous man.

Landis was LIABLE for millions in civil damages, he was clearly negligent in the movie deaths, and he should have gone to prison IMO.

I think a more appropriate call of Copleys lifestyle is that of "Trust Fund Baby", not "jetsetter", but you are correct, he was generous with the $$$$$$$.


monaghan Nov. 27, 2012 @ 10:09 p.m.

Avoiding worker layoffs is not my idea of a newspaper publisher's highest calling, most especially when the newspaper is essentially a rest home for layer-upon-layer of so-so staff, putting out the same mediocre and biased product year after year.

David Copley was a go-along-to-get-along, profoundly disinterested caretaker, and we could NOT "have done a whole lot worse," as Dotinga says. The San Diego Union-Tribune was a newspaper travesty.

It is weird over there now under outlandish publisher Doug Manchester, but U-T editor Jeff Light is light years a better journalist than anything ever fielded by any one of the Copleys. Thank you, Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills.


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