Tuesday, November 13, 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
USF marks construction milestone at medical school building in Water Street Tampa

USF marks construction milestone at medical school building in Water Street Tampa

The University of South Florida and Tampa leaders Wednesday marked the "topping off," or completion of vertical construction, on the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.
Updated: 2 hours ago

New Jersey manufacturer relocates headquarters to Seminole

S.S. White Technologies, which specializes in flexible shaft technology, moved into a 90,000 square foot facility at 8300 Sheen Drive.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Disney unveils plans for 'Guardians of Galaxy' coaster, high-tech robots

Disney unveils plans for 'Guardians of Galaxy' coaster, high-tech robots

At an amusement park industry trade show, a Disney executive hails the next generation of animatronics.
Updated: 6 hours ago
Pinellas hotels report 6 percent dip in room sales since Red Tide hit

Pinellas hotels report 6 percent dip in room sales since Red Tide hit

Pinellas County is still on track to break its bed-tax collection record, even though Red Tide has showed no signs of letting up.
Updated: 7 hours ago
Ford, Walmart test self-driving grocery delivery in South Florida

Ford, Walmart test self-driving grocery delivery in South Florida

Ford and Walmart are teaming up to test a self-driving grocery delivery service.
Updated: 8 hours ago
Chick-fil-A now offering delivery, celebrates by giving away free sandwiches

Chick-fil-A now offering delivery, celebrates by giving away free sandwiches

Chick-Fil-A will give away free classic chicken sandwiches to customers who order at least $5 worth of food from DoorDash, a delivery service.
Updated: 9 hours ago
These are the 'worst toys' of the holiday season

These are the 'worst toys' of the holiday season

A Black Panther "slash claw" and a plastic Power Rangers sword are among the items topping a consumer safety group's annual list of worst toys for the holiday season.
Updated: 11 hours ago
The Daystarter: A whole lot of suing going on in the Florida recount; why Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are smack in the middle; a Hall of Fame kind of night for Martin St. Louis

The Daystarter: A whole lot of suing going on in the Florida recount; why Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are smack in the middle; a Hall of Fame kind of night for Martin St. Louis

The Daystarter: Marc Topkin on Rays’ manager Kevin Cash falling short of the top AL manager award; Graham Brink on why Amazon just isn’t that into Tampa Bay; and Tom Jones on why the Bucs are keeping Jameis Winston on the bench.
Published: 11/14/18
Time running out for officials to reach stadium deal with Rays

Time running out for officials to reach stadium deal with Rays

With elections in the rearview mirror, focus shifts to efforts to move the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City.
Published: 11/13/18
Updated: 11/14/18
Dear Amazon, from Tampa Bay: Why don't you love us?

Dear Amazon, from Tampa Bay: Why don't you love us?

Seattle-based Amazon decided to open a second headquarters, splitting it between New York City and the Washington, D.C., area. Tampa Bay never had a chance.
Published: 11/13/18
Updated: 11/14/18