The image of a uniformed police officer resting a hand on the casket of a fallen colleague is all too familiar across America. But as a recent report on a police charity based in Florida shows, tugging the heartstrings while tugging the purse strings is serious business. That is why donors should do their research to ensure charities spend their contributions as intended.
The Center for Public Integrity notes that the Law Enforcement Officers Relief Fund includes a donation link on its home page to “support families of officers killed in the line-of-duty.” That is one of several programs the nonprofit advertises, touting financial assistance to families of officers who are killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, or who are impacted by natural disasters.
But the Center for Public Integrity recently reported that just a sliver of donations given to the relief fund helps those families. According to the center’s analysis of the group’s tax returns, most of the money the nonprofit charity raises ends up with telemarketers paid to solicit donors. The fund is one of several organizations related to the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO, itself a nonprofit based in Florida, according to the center. That organization represents local police unions across the country, and it is one of about 70 affiliates of the national AFL-CIO. The center found that from about 2011 to 2018, the union and the relief fund spent about $106 million, according to tax returns, with about 77 percent of that paying for fundraising services.
The center noted that the International Union of Police Associations had been rated a “D-minus” by the Better Business Bureau for its “failure to respond to 15 complaints.” And the Tampa Bay Times in 2014 put the union on its list of charities that devote only a fraction of their donations to worthy causes.
Government and private citizens alike have a responsibility to better police the nation’s charities. As the Tampa Bay Times showed in first exposing the Ybor City-based U.S. Navy Veterans Association as a sham charity in 2010, the oversight of these operations often falls to individual states, which pursue complaints with varying degrees of vigilance. Florida should shift its oversight of charities from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Attorney General’s Office; it’s not difficult to imagine that a query from the state’s chief law enforcement officer would be much more effective in capturing a charity’s attention.
Still, consumers have a responsibility to protect themselves, and there’s never been an easier time to make informed choices about charitable giving. Florida’s charity checker is a start, and many watchdog groups have online tools to help donors make smarter decisions. Relief efforts in many communities are now highly organized and hyper-local, with sponsors using crowd-funding and other online media resources to steer financial assistance directly to the families of fallen officers, crime victims and people displaced by fire or disaster - all without the middleman. Donors should use the power their money gives them to support worthwhile charities that deliver on their public mission.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.