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Editorial: Keeping a closer eye on charities

In most American industries, companies that repeatedly fail to deliver on their promises don't last long. But that doesn't apply to a subset of charity work, where some operators pose as do-gooders but ultimately spend little money doing good. Across the country, regulators and industry insiders are stepping up in the wake of a sweeping investigation into the nation's 50 worst charities. Now Florida lawmakers and regulators should ensure the Sunshine State — home to 11 of the worst charities — isn't left behind. There should be no cover for pseudo-charities and the for-profit fundraisers who help them by bilking well-meaning Americans of their money.

The reaction, one month after publication of a yearlong investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting, looks promising. Regulators in multiple states have said they have started to use the Times/CIR database to screen charities for violations that occurred outside their jurisdiction. A leading watchdog group is reconsidering how it rates charities. And industry insiders sound open to considering what they can do to help.

In Florida, Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Adam Putnam said his office is reviewing state laws to consider what changes he will suggest to the Legislature to strengthen or adjust state regulation. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz should make it a priority. Obvious places to start would be increasing penalties and punishments on those who violate state laws; requiring more information on solicitation methods; recognizing sanctions in other states so that those banned elsewhere can't operate here; and requiring far more transparency to donors about how their money is spent.

But the burden is also on the legitimate nonprofit industry to propose commonsense solutions for weeding out those who exploit charities to make money. Some in the industry have taken umbrage at the Times/CIR method for defining the 50 worst charities, which highlights those with the highest percentage of overhead costs. What would be more helpful is helping to devise a transparent accountability system that will enable contributors to know exactly who gets their donations and how they are spent.

It should not be acceptable for people to say they need money to do good work, collect tax-exempt donations under that premise and then spend that money doing little or none of that good work. The search for a better regulatory system is underway. Putnam and the Legislature shouldn't let up until they have built one here.

Editorial: Keeping a closer eye on charities 07/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 5, 2013 3:05pm]
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