Sunday, October 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Do more to make sure donors aren't duped

Pseudo charities that enrich themselves and spend little on their advertised cause while preying on donors' best natures are a multimillion-dollar enterprise in America. Yet lackadaisical regulation enables this deception, which is largely legal and benefits from tax-exempt status. Florida and other states should do more to ensure donors aren't duped and that bad actors are forced out of business.

The investigative series published Sunday and today by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals about 50 charities that appear to exist primarily for the purpose of benefitting their organizers and for-profit fundraising companies. At these 50 operations, for every dollar taken in from telemarketing calls, just pennies flow to a good cause. The rest flows into the pockets of the people who set them up or the for-profit fundraising companies they hire. Their fundraising misleads donors into believing they are helping others and robs communities of tax revenue because donors can deduct charitable contributions from their taxable income.

As reporters Kris Hundley and Kendall Taggart detail in today's article, this outrage continues largely unabated because piecemeal state regulation fails to focus on bad actors or demand transparency. Nor does the Internal Revenue Service dedicate staff to policing nonprofits. The result in many states means operators simply file paperwork to register with the appropriate state agency, such as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but almost never fear any further enforcement.

For example, most states can't even provide a list of disciplinary actions against charities and solicitation companies. Regulators may fail to act on blatant violations of law, such as evidence a Florida solicitor was hiring felons to dial potential donors. And rare is the repercussion for solicitors who lie to donors. In the unusual case where charities or their solicitation companies are shut down due to fraud, operators usually can reorganize under a new name or move to another state and start the scheme all over again.

This isn't a new problem. Decades ago, several states tried to crack down on pseudo charities and their for-profit solicitors by limiting the percentage of donation revenue that solicitors could be paid. The U.S. Supreme Court unfortunately ruled in 2003 that such laws violated free speech.

But states have other options, and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the Legislature should pursue reforms. Here are five suggestions:

 

Increase penalties

Florida's regulation of nonprofits and the solicitors who work for them most often amounts to a $500 fine for failing to file appropriate paperwork. That's not enough to get anyone's attention.

 

Punish individuals

Florida and other states should focus on banning bad actors from working for nonprofits, not on just banning the corporate entities.

 

Improve cooperation

Nonprofits and their directors who are shut down in one state should not be allowed to start fresh in another state. Florida should sign reciprocal agreements with other states to recognize the disciplinary actions taken against bad actors apply everywhere.

 

Review scripts

Require telephone solicitors working for nonprofit charities to submit scripts to regulators to ensure they are not misleading potential donors.

 

Give donors more information

Like North Carolina and other states, Florida should create a public, user-friendly website that includes both charity regulation documents and what portion of revenue raised by each charity is spent on its advertised purpose. Florida should also follow the practice of New York and South Carolina, which highlight each year which charities are sending just pennies on the dollar to beneficiaries.

Comments
Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Sharing memories of the “wish book,” shopping on Saturday nights and many memorable purchases
Published: 10/19/18

Editorial: FBI should take a hard look at CareerSource

The scrutiny now extends to the state agency that oversees the local jobs centers
Published: 10/19/18
Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Experts are right that Hurricane Michael should force a review of Florida’s building standards. While newer homes generally fared better than older ones, the state needs to reassess the risks posed by high winds and storm surge.
Published: 10/19/18
Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

You wouldn't skip a trip to the gas pump, would you?Then don't miss the chance to cast your general election ballot, either, when Hillsborough County opens its many early voting sites Monday morning for a two-week engagement.If you do your homework a...
Published: 10/19/18

Editorial: Glazer Children’s Museum quickly regained its step

Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum.
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Published: 10/17/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Published: 10/16/18
Updated: 10/19/18

Editorial: Housecleaning was necessary at Clearwater parks department

The theft of money and a hostile atmosphere show a city department out of control
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/19/18