Editor's note: As part of a yearlong investigation into charities across the nation, the Tampa Bay Times and its reporting partner, the Center for Investigative Reporting, asked readers in June to suggest nonprofits for closer review. Readers responded with nearly 300 suggestions. In the coming months, the Times and CIR will examine some of those charities and share what we found.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation is one of the worst charities in America when it comes to spending large amounts of cash on for-profit solicitation companies.
But that fact has been obscured in documents filed with state regulators.
The Times and CIR took a closer look at the charity after readers suggested we investigate.
IRS tax documents show that from 2009 to 2011, the charity raised $7.6 million through its solicitors. More than 90 percent of that was paid directly to for-profit solicitation companies hired by the charity.
Its history of using high-cost fundraisers for most of its income would be enough to make Autism Spectrum one of the nation's worst charities. The Times/CIR rankings are based on the amount of money charities spend on fundraisers. But because state reports filed by one of the charity's solicitors understated Autism Spectrum's fundraising cost, it did not make the list.
The charity was founded in 2007 and is run by Michael Slutsky. The organization's mission is to educate the public about autism and provide financial assistance and educational material to help detect and treat the disease.
It provides scholarships for autistic children to attend camp, sends holiday gift cards and gives 'Early Detection Kits' to agencies that work with young children, according to its website.
But of the $7.6 million raised by solicitors, less than 3 percent has been spent on direct cash aid, tax records show.
Parker Autism Foundation in North Carolina has received about $10,800 from Autism Spectrum each year for the past three years, according to Shelley Reilley, the foundation's president. Her foundation also received Target gift cards at Christmas and a new van for transporting children.
But such grants are a small part of Autism Spectrum's programs. About two-thirds of the $2.3 million the charity reported spending on programs was educational material delivered in conjunction with its fundraising pitches.
Charity officials did not provide samples of their fundraising material. Slutsky said the charity is trying to reduce its fundraising costs.
Autism Spectrum has gotten low marks from watchdog organizations. Charity Watch gave it an F, and Charity Navigator issued a zero-star rating. The Better Business Bureau reported that the charity did not disclose information when requested.