Ignoring new law, unregistered ‘faux charities’ keep soliciting in Las Vegas

faux charitiesThe telephone cold-caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters identified himself as “John.” He solicited a donation for Back Blue Lives PAC, which he described as a political action committee based in Alexandria, Va., supporting law enforcement.

“Our police officers are being defunded, demoralized and disrespected,” “John” sermonized in an impassioned pitch that sounded very much like it was coming from a charity rather than a political operative. “They put their lives on the line very day without support of many politicians … It’s time to say enough is enough. Can you help protect our police officers’ lives and rights?”

“John” was not a real person but a computer-generated voice using what is known as soundboard technology. That’s why I’m enclosing his name in quotation marks.

When I said I’d consider a contribution, “John” immediately professed his gratitude and switched me to “Mary,” another fake voice, so she could record details, like my name and address, to legally threaten me in the event I committed to a pledge and didn’t pay up. I told “Mary” that a new law in Nevada seemed to require any organization soliciting money for a law-enforcement cause to first register with the state and file a financial statement. I asked if Back Blue Lives PAC was so registered.

“That is a really great question,” Mary replied. “Let me get my supervisor.”

Her supervisor–a real person for once, but probably the person controlling the soundboard voices–came on the line. I repeated my question asking about a Nevada registration. “Okay,” she said.

Then–click. She hung up.

This is yet another example of what I call a “faux charity.” That’sa cause whose pitch on the phone sounds like it is raising money for a meritorious cause like fighting an illness or supporting law enforcement but is just a PAC spending almost all the receipts on fundraising and overhead, with organizers likely getting something on the side.

For some reason, I don’t think Back Blue Lives PAC is registered to solicit in Nevada, especially since the organization did not come up in the Nevada Secretary of State’s online PAC search or business entity search databases. And for some reason, I don’t think that Nevada regulators are going to do much about it.

Back Blue Lives PAC certainly has a good informational reason from its standpoint not to register in Nevada. According to its filings with the Federal Election Commission, since its creation barely a year ago on August 14, 2020, Back Blue Lives PAC has received $312,000 in contributions. It spent $271,000 of that in fundraising costs and related overhead–and not even one dime in political contributions to, as the PAC’s bare-bones website says, “support pro law and order candidates for public office.” Put another way, Back Blue Lives PAC spent 87% of the donations collected in raising the donations, and 0% in furtherance of the stated mission.

How many would-be donors would be happy to know this?

As I wrote in this space recently, that new Nevada law, known as Senate Bill 62, expanded prior registration and financial information-filing requirements far beyond the old law, which required that only of certain charities that had tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service (Contributions to PACs are not tax-deductible). Among its many provisions, the new law covers any soliciting organization, tax-exempt or not, that “purports to be established for … the benefit of law enforcement.”  The legislative history of the bill makes pretty clear that includes PACs.

Senate Bill 62 was signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak on May 25 and took effect October 1.

In the short period since Senate Bill 62 became effective, I’ve received soliciting calls from three unregistered-in-Nevada faux charities. The first was from American Police Officers Alliance PAC, of Arlington, Va. Its representative on the phone–also of the soundboard technology variety–falsely told me the PAC was registered with Nevada. Another, also a soundboard deal, was from Ovarian Cancer Awareness Initiative PAC, a d/b/a used by United Women’s Health Alliance PAC of Washington, D.C. (The new Nevada law also covers solicitations for “any … public health … purpose … or … in any manner [that] employs … a charitable appeal as the basis of any solicitation, or an appeal that suggests there is a charitable reason for the solicitation.”) I wrote up a previous call from that organization to me, which is why it is a candidate for my list of America’s Stupidiest Charities, found elsewhere on this site. Then Back Blue Lives.

I rather doubt I’m the only Nevadan getting calls from these organizations.

In my view it’s not surprising that sketchy out-of-state organizations thumb their noses at Nevada regulators. These independent agencies frankly don’t have a good track record when it comes to regulating fundraising. Oversight of this area is divided between two agencies, the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, lessening the accountability of either. Like much of Nevada government, these are not the most pro-active of agencies. In 2013 the Nevada Legislature passed a law requiring the SOSO to post full and current financial statements of registered charities on its website. The SOSO has yet to post even one. This forces would-be donors trying to evaluate financial efficiencies and the like to look at out-of-state sites that might have data years out of date. According to their websites, neither the AG’s office nor the SOSO has issued a press release in years about a regulatory action against a charity-like fundraiser.

A few days ago, I sent an email seeking comment on the issues I raise to Back Blue Lives PAC at two email addresses listed in Back Blue Lives PAC’s initial FEC filing. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

The notion of law enforcement causes running up against the law is certainly eye-popping. Maybe word will get around that Nevada has a new law dealing with faux charities. But it’s the same old sheriffs. From my limited perspective, the law so far has had no impact on the activities of “John,” “Mary” and their “supervisor.” More quote marks.

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