America's Worst Charities, by Kris Hundley and Kendall Tagga

For those absolutely devoid of scruples, charity fraud is the field par excellance, in which you can simultaneously harvest kudos for your humanitarianism and make off with vast bundles of untaxed cash. Convictions for charity fraud are so rare as to be nonexistent, so any criminals operating in other fields of endeavor are incurring unnecessary risks.

Re: America's Worst Charities, by Kris Hundley and Kendall T

Postby admin » Tue Jun 24, 2014 3:10 am

PART 7
Overhaul of Florida charities law seems headed for passage
by Tia Mitchell, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

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Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:56pm

TALLAHASSEE — A sweeping charities reform package is breezing through the Legislature despite earlier concerns that legitimate philanthropies might be harmed by new rules.

The House bill received unanimous support in three committees and is now ready for a vote on the floor. The Senate bill has one more committee, and members who had been worried about reputable charities now say their issues have been addressed.

"I believe that those concerns have been worked out with the bill sponsor and I've been assured that those concerns are no longer valid," said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who was one of two senators to vote against the proposal during its first committee hearing.

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam started working on what has been called the most extensive rewrite of state charities laws after reading an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting called "America's Worst Charities.'' His office's responsibilities include charity oversight, and his staff has been tweaking the bill to deal with concerns as they arise.

For example, charities initially complained about a requirement that they submit audited financial statements to state regulators to remain in good standing. They insisted this was costly and duplicative because they already give similar information to the federal government.

The bills have since been amended to allow charities to provide the state copies of their IRS Form 990, an annual statement certain tax-exempt organizations must file. This step would make it easier for consumers to see this document.

"That should provide a lot of transparency to the public in order to get a clear picture of the organization's finances," said David Biemesderfer, president & CEO of the Florida Philanthropic Network.

Under the proposal, the state also would overhaul its charities website to include more detailed contact and financial information.

Nonprofits that receive more than $1 million in contributions but spend less than 25 percent of it on programming will have even more requirements. This provision is targeted at organizations like Allied Veterans of the World, the now-defunct Internet cafe operator that for years justified its dealings using the state's lax charities laws.

The measure also requires paid fundraisers, who mostly seek donations over the telephone, to meet similar requirements as telemarketers.

And it also addresses a ubiquitous but often ignored aspect of charity: clothing receptacles in parking lots. Under the proposal, groups with these boxes would have to display a sign with contact information on the bins and clearly state whether the organization is a for-profit or not.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, is the sponsor of House Bill 629. He said the bill should have no problem gaining the approval of the full House and Senate so it can land on Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

"I think there is a lot of desire by the members to address the issue," Boyd said. "I expect it to succeed."

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is the sponsor of the Senate version, SB 638, and said he expects it to be heard in the Appropriations Committee as soon as next week.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or tmitchell@tampabay.com.

Overhaul of Florida charities law seems headed for passage 04/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2014 8:48am]

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Re: America's Worst Charities, by Kris Hundley and Kendall T

Postby admin » Tue Jun 24, 2014 3:10 am

PART 8
Newspaper report triggers investigation and fine for charity consultant
by Kris Hundley, Times Staff Writer

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 9:27pm

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Telemarketing consultant Mark Gelvan was fined $50,000 for violating a ban on fundraising.

New York regulators fined a telemarketing consultant for some of America's worst charities $50,000 on Wednesday after officials determined he had violated a lifetime ban on raising money there.

New York's attorney general began investigating Mark Gelvan of Montville, N.J., after the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed in June that Gelvan remained active in the fundraising industry despite his ban.

The Times/CIR report ranked America's 50 worst charities based on the money they spent hiring professional solicitors. Gelvan acted as a fundraising consultant with several of those charities.

In a press release, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Gelvan violated his ban when his company brokered fundraising agreements for two charities.

Schneiderman's office said Gelvan arranged for a telemarketer to call New Yorkers on behalf of Woman to Woman Breast Cancer Foundation in Florida and the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation in Virginia.

Gelvan received more than $37,000 in money raised for the two charities from New Yorkers, the state's investigation found. Gelvan did not return a call for comment.

In 2004, Gelvan agreed to a lifetime ban on raising funds for charity in New York while admitting no wrongdoing. Regulators had accused him of making false claims to donors, including saying donations to a police charity would be used to benefit families of slain troopers.

Gelvan remains barred from soliciting for charities or profiting from charity fundraising in New York.

Newspaper report triggers investigation and fine for charity consultant 04/23/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 9:56pm]

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Re: America's Worst Charities, by Kris Hundley and Kendall T

Postby admin » Tue Jun 24, 2014 3:10 am

PART 9
Lawmakers agree on legislation to crack down on fraud by Florida charities
by Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014 6:48pm

TALLAHASSEE — The Senate and House struck agreement Tuesday on legislation to crack down on fraud by Florida charities after agreeing to drop a proposed $50 application fee for criminal background checks on solicitors.

Instead, taxpayers will pay for the background checks.

The legislation is the most significant tightening of the laws overseeing charitable solicitations in Florida in two decades and is a rare case of increased government regulation by a pro-business, free market-oriented Republican Legislature.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has called Florida "a destination of choice for hucksters," and lawmakers embraced his call for new laws after reading an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting called "America's Worst Charities," which exposed rogue charities that pocketed millions of dollars in profits under the pretense of raising money for veterans or sick children.

The legislation adds new reporting requirements for charities and bans them from Florida if they've been cited for fraud or other crimes in other states. Charities that raise more than $500,000 a year must have their financial statements reviewed by auditors and charities that collect more than $1 million must be audited.

Charities that raise $100,000 in response to a disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado or wildfires, must file quarterly reports with the state.

"It adds a lot of transparency and accountability," said Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, sponsor of the House bill. "It holds people accountable who are acting inappropriately. The news stories were instrumental in breaking open the issue."

The House version (HB 629) included a $50 individual application fee, but Boyd said Gov. Rick Scott's office raised objections to the new fee, so it was taken out when the bill came up on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.

"I personally felt that the fees were reasonable, and we have fees attached to a lot of other business services in Florida," Boyd said. "But certainly if he felt there was a need to take it out for the good of the cause, I support that, because the bottom line is that we get our hands around the issues that have been created by these rogue charities."

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sponsor of the Senate bill, said that throughout the session, lawmakers have broadly tried to prevent new fees on consumers from being attached to any bills. "It's an ongoing concern," Brandes said.

The revised bill allocates about $416,000 from the state treasury to hire three full-time employees in Putnam's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to oversee the checks, which include mandatory registration and fingerprinting for people who work for telemarketing firms hired by charities to raise money.

Brandes emphasized that the background checks do not apply to people who serve without pay as volunteer fundraisers for charities.

The Senate is expected to pass the revised bill today and will send it for a final vote in the House, which will send it to Scott's desk.

Lawmakers agree on legislation to crack down on fraud by Florida charities 04/29/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:15am]

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Re: America's Worst Charities, by Kris Hundley and Kendall T

Postby admin » Tue Jun 24, 2014 3:10 am

PART 10
New law will give regulators more oversight of charities
by Kris Hundley, Times Staff Writer

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Sunday, May 25, 2014 9:21pm

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SCOTT KEELER | Times (2013)This telephone line in the Iowa Attorney General’s office is answered by a staff member who records telemarketers’ pitches. The recordings can later be used to bring lawsuits against charities and telemarketers for making misleading statements.

Telemarketers with criminal backgrounds will no longer be able to call Floridians for charitable donations.

Nonprofits and professional solicitors banned in one state will be banned in Florida as well.

And consumers will be able to go online for more details about how a charity uses its donations under a bill Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law.

Lawmakers proposed the sweeping changes following a yearlong investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting that ranked the worst charities in America based on which groups spent the most on professional solicitation companies. Of the 50 charities with the worst records, 11 were based in Florida, more than any other state.

With the reforms, Florida will have the tools to transform itself from one of the nation's most lax charity regulators to among the most aggressive. And because the rules apply to any organization that raises money in Florida, the impact of the changes could be felt nationwide.

Ken Berger, president and chief executive of Charity Navigator, an industry watchdog group, praised the changes, saying, "I'm in favor of anything that provides further enforcement and oversight to eliminate unethical and fraudulent behaviors."

The pending law gives Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees more than 17,000 charities and 130 professional solicitors, additional manpower and stronger financial penalties for wrongdoers.

Three positions will be added, at a cost of about $415,000, to investigate charity-related complaints. Maximum fines will be increased to $5,000 for most violations and $10,000 for fraud.

The bill would also give Florida regulators the power to revoke a charity's state sales tax exemption for certain violations.

Bigger charities also will get additional scrutiny starting in July.

Under the new rules, charities with more than $500,000 in contributions will be required to have an independent certified public accountant review their finances; those with more than $1 million must publicly file an annual financial audit. Audits already are required by several states and give the public a more complete picture of a charity's finances, including related-party transactions, than its IRS filing.

All charities that raise donations in Florida would be required to file a financial statement that shows how much they spend on their mission. Any charity that raises more than $1 million but reports spending less than 25 percent on program services would be required to file additional information about salaries, travel expenses and fundraising costs.

The bill also gives regulators more time to check an applicant's record by extending the mandated turnaround time on annual registrations from 15 to 90 days. If the charity or fundraiser has had its right to solicit revoked in another state, Florida officials will be able to block the group from operating in Florida. Berger said he was not aware of any other state that had such a provision.

The Times/CIR report found at least a dozen cases where a charity or a solicitor had been forced out of one jurisdiction but continued operating elsewhere because state regulators don't systematically share information.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's office said the department will rely on information from other states, as well as tips from media and charities to identify wrongdoers.

The bill also puts teeth into an existing law prohibiting people convicted of certain financial crimes from soliciting for charities.

Previously, employers were not required to do background checks of their employees. Under the new rules, such screening is mandatory for telemarketers who take donors' financial information.

Kris Hundley can be reached at khundley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996.

New law will give regulators more oversight of charities 05/25/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2014 8:35am]

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