Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Business

New law will give regulators more oversight of charities

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 [email protected] or (727) 892-2996.

Comments
Developer proposes Sprouts Farmers Market for Land O’Lakes

Developer proposes Sprouts Farmers Market for Land O’Lakes

LAND O’LAKES – A Sarasota developer is proposing to turn a vacant Winn-Dixie store in central Pasco into a Sprouts Farmers Market or similar specialty grocer.Benderson Development filed preliminary plans Monday with Pasco County to redevelop the form...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

CLEARWATER - Clegg Insurance Group of Clearwater announced on Wednesday it has bought Brandon-based Advanced Insurance Brokerage.The merger creates a firm with more than 2,000 customers and more than $10 million in annual premiums. Terms were not dis...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s is weighing another round of hefty rate hikes.Staffers with the state-run insurer of last resort have proposed raising the average rates for homeowners by 7.9 percent — just under the legislative cap of 10 percent ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay homes sales while prices keep rising

A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay homes sales while prices keep rising

Tampa Bay’s two largest counties showed anemic home sales in May as prices continued to rise due to a tight supply.In Pinellas, sales of single-family home plunged nearly 12 percent from the previous May, the second-worst showing in a year. Prices, t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Pinellas County files suit against companies who built Public Safety Complex

Pinellas County files suit against companies who built Public Safety Complex

CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Public Safety Complex was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, but officials now say the $81 million fortress has water leaks and cracked walls.The county filed a lawsuit this month against Harvard Jolly, the S...
Updated: 5 hours ago
CEOs are calling the separation of children and families at the border ‘inhumane’ and ‘tragic’

CEOs are calling the separation of children and families at the border ‘inhumane’ and ‘tragic’

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have spoken out about the Trump administration’s hard-line "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that has resulted in a sharp rise in children separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border. The president o...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Demolition looms for old Bromley office building at Midtown Tampa

Demolition looms for old Bromley office building at Midtown Tampa

TAMPA — Over the past month, demolition crews have gutted the old five-story Bromley office building at the future site of the $500 million Midtown Tampa project.On Sunday, the remaining skeleton of the building is scheduled to come down.The demoliti...
Updated: 6 hours ago
What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

Blame a lack of rail cars in Canada or not enough semi trucks in the United States. Forest fires didn’t help. Tariffs played a big role, too. Even the buoyant economy takes part of the rap for frothy lumber prices, which hit all-time highs las...
Updated: 9 hours ago
What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

Blame a lack of rail cars in Canada or not enough semi trucks in the United States. Forest fires didn’t help. Tariffs played a big role, too. Even the buoyant economy takes part of the rap for frothy lumber prices, which hit all-time highs las...
Updated: 9 hours ago