Another iffy police fundraiser in Las Vegas flouts Nevada law

iffy police fundraiserThe caller to the New to Las Vegas world headquarters identified himself as Brian Hill. The purpose: to solicit a contribution for National Police Support Fund PAC, which he described as an organization to bolster law enforcement.

I cut to the chase. A new Nevada law requires fundraisers in the state working on behalf of law enforcement causes to register and make filings, I said. Are you registered to solicit in Nevada?

“Hold on a sec,” the caller replied. There was a pause. “Hold on.”

Then “Brian Hill” hung up on me.

I’m using quotes around the name because Brian was not a real person. Rather, I was hearing a realistic-sounding voice generated by a computer monitored by an anonymous supervisor using what is known as soundboard technology. But the hang-up hardly surprised me. I’ve gotten calls before from “Brian Hill,” and I’ve researched NPSF, which is based in Arlington Va. It is not registered to cold-call in Nevada, according to the website of the Nevada Secretary of State. But in this minimal government state, I don’t expect authorities to do anything about that. When it comes to Carson City, what they say isn’t always what they do.

Moreover, from what I can tell from its filings, NPSF has terrible financial efficiencies, spending the overwhelming bulk of the money raised in raising it, leaving very, very little to further the stated mission. Would-be donors, of course, are not told this. There is no shortage of withering commentary on the Internet about NPSF, although not so much on financial matters. The criticism is tempered a bit by posts suggesting the outfit does actually advocate for cops, even if not a lot in my judgement given the amount of money raised.

The PAC in the name stands for political action committee, meaning NPFS is not a charity although its pitch on the phone about helping police officers might make you think it is. This accounts for some of the expressed hostility.

But since I live in Nevada, a starting point for me is Senate Bill 62. That’s a law the Nevada Legislature passed in 2021 that greatly expanded filing and registration requirements to include fundraising by any organization that, among other things, “benefits law enforcement.” The law and its legislative history make clear this includes PACs. I don’t know about you, but I’d say an organization with the name of National Police Support Fund is intended to benefit law enforcement.

Enforcement of this and other laws regarding financial solicitation in the public interest is split between the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. To put it mildly, neither is especially pro-active when it comes to enforcing these kinds of laws. (The Secretary of State’s Office, in particular, has simply ignored a nearly decade-old law requiring it to post on its website full financial statements from most soliciting charities.) The operators of these PACs, which I call “faux charities” because they sound like charities but aren’t, know it, too. This is why I have received scores of calls from unregistered fundraisers since Senate Bill 62 took effect on October 21. Want some other examples just from the realm of law enforcement? Click here, click here, and click here.

From January 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, NPSF raised $4.5 million from donors across the country and spent roughly the same amount. The semi-annual filings required by the IRS for PACs it regulates (many PACS go through the Federal Election Commission) mandates that every single expenditure be listed–the latest covering six months ran for 191 pages–but there is no tallying by category. The individual classifications–such as “technology services,” “telemarketing,” and “software subscriptions”–are a little murky as to what’s fundraising expense and what is legitimate mission outreach. But from my practiced eye, almost all of the expenses were fundraising and overhead rather than directly toward the mission, as stated on NPSF’s website, “to promote the interests of our nation’s police officers.”

However, many PACs also are required annually to file IRS Form 990s, which calls for tallying of expenses by category. The latest 990 I can find for NPSF is for the year ending December 31, 2018, although it wasn’t submitted until nearly a year later. I have little reason to think the financial efficiency ratios now are significantly better. These ratios don’t tend to change much over time.

In that year, NPSF received contributions of $3.6 million and spent about the same amount. The filing said NPSF spent $2.8 million of that $3.6 million just in fundraising expense. That’s a fundraising efficiency ratio–the percent of donations remaining after fundraising costs–of just 22%. Put another way, 78 cents of every dollar raised went to fundraising telemarketers and got nowhere near the stated mission. Is that something you as a would-be donor would want to know? The mission of NPSF is political advocacy on behalf of cops. Yet according to that return, only $686,000 was spent for that. So the percent of total expenses spent in direct furtherance of the stated mission, which for a charity is called the charitable commitment ratio, was just 19%. Put another way, 81 cents of every dollar spent went for fundraising and overhead. Would that be the best use of your money?

Earlier I mentioned the unflattering commentary on the Internet about NPSF, which started shortly after its founding in 2017. Example: “BBB Advises Potential Donors to be Cautious If Solicited by the National Police Support Fund Because of a Lack of Transparency,” read a May 2018 warning by a unit of the Better Business Bureau. In various posts NPSF leadership has tried to rebut this, referring to hard-to-understand periodic filings.

I emailed NPSF and its leaders asking for comment on the issues I am raising. I’ll update this post if I hear back. Especially if I get yet another call from “Brian Hill.”

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