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July 27, 2015

Hearing-Aid Charity's Gifts Hitch Star Power to Its Cause

A Minnesota foundation that donates hearing aids to poor people around the world routinely attracts high-powered celebrities to its international missions and fundraisers, in part by giving millions of dollars to their own charities, Minnesota Public Radio reports. The Starkey Hearing Foundation's harnessing of star power to raise money and advance its cause has both drawn praise and raised questions among philanthropy experts.

According to tax filings, the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based foundation gave $3.5 million from 2006 to 2013 to nonprofits associated with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The former presidents have attended the organization's annual Twin Cities gala, as have Oscar winners, name athletes, and pop superstars whose philanthropic endeavors have also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the foundation.

In the past year the foundation has given away 175,000 hearing aids donated by Starkey Hearing Technologies, a for-profit firm headed by the charity's founder, Bill Austin. Its gala brings in about $8 million a year, funding missions to distribute hearing devices in developing countries. Foundation President Richard Brown said the group does not pay stars to attend the gala, but giving to their causes draws "people who want to share in sending our message of sharing and caring and giving the gift of hearing to people."