Another cancer ‘faux charity’ solicits unregistered in Las Vegas

faux charityThe conversation was short but revealing.

The recent telephone caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters said her name was “Mary Brown.” The purpose of the unsolicited call: to seek a contribution to American Breast Cancer Coalition PAC.

OK, I said. Where is the organization located? “Mary” gave an address in Washington, D.C.

OK. I said. What will the organization do with my contribution? Here was the response in full: “Adding you to the do-not-call list. Goodbye.” I heard a click.

Now that sounds like something on the up-and-up, doesn’t it?

I’m using quotes around “Mary” because I wasn’t talking to a real person. Rather, I was conversing–if that’s even the proper term–with a computer generating a voice monitored by a real person using what is known as soundboard technology.

The abrupt ending led me to do a little digging about ABCC, which despite its political action committee status–that’s what PAC means–presents as a worthy charity. Here’s what I found: ABCC did next to nothing to fight breast cancer. In the 12 months ending September 30, 2022, ABCC spent almost all the money raised for fundraising expense and related overhead. Despite that period covering most of 2022, run-up to an important election, ABCC spent barely 1% of its budget on anything resembling advocacy or candidate support. And, oh yes, it appears to be soliciting me in violation of Nevada law.

ABCC is what I call a faux charity–a PAC that sounds meritorious but isn’t. By comparison it almost makes George Santos seem honest. Over the years I’ve written up a number of cancer-themed and other faux charities that called me. Click here and click here to see but two. Type the word “faux” in the nearby search box and hit enter to see more than a dozen others.

ABCC was founded in May 2019. An IRS Form 990 that ABCC filed for 2020 said the mission was “engaging in political campaign activity to support candidates who advocate for breast cancer treatment and research.” The filing misspelled the word “campaign” as “campagin.”

In the year ending September 30, 2022, ABCC, which appears to solicit nationally, received $2.23 million in donations, mainly in small amounts from Mom and Pop donors. But according to my vendor-by-vendor review of payments, ABCC paid $2.17 million–all but $60,000–in fundraising and closely related expenses. That produced a fundraising efficiency ratio–the percent of donations left after deducting fundraising expenses–of just 2.7%. Put another way, more than 97 cents of each dollar donated went right out the door to a network of obscure fundraisers.

If you were a would-be donor, would you want to know this?

Even worse was the level of total expenses spent in furtherance of the stated mission. For the year, ABCC spent $2.20 million. A total of about $29,000 was spent in what was classified as “voter advocacy and outreach.” I’ll give ABCC the benefit of the doubt and call that in furtherance of the mission. But that meant ABCC spent just 1.3% of all expenditures to support its cause. Were ABCC a true charity, this would be its charitable commitment ratio–and charity watchdogs consider anything below 65% to be beyond the pale.

If you were a would-be donor, would you want to know this?

On top of everything, Nevada passed a law in 2021 greatly expanding regulation concerning the solicitation of donations within the state. Specifically, the law, known as Senate Bill 62, requires fundraisers for, among other causes, “any … public health … purpose” to first register with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and make financial filings before soliciting. Now I would think an organization with the words “breast cancer” in its name meets the requirement of a “public health” purpose. The law does not exempt PACs, and the legislative history embraces their inclusion within the reach of the law.

I checked with the website of the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. ABCC is not registered. So it looks like ABCC is flouting Nevada law.

Not that ABCC has much to worry about. Nevada regulators, mainly the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office, have a history of failing to enforce laws concerning charitable disclosure laws. For instance, a Nevada law passed in 2013 required the Secretary of State’s Office to post financial statements of registered charities, which can include the latest IRS Form 990, on its own Web site. To date, the agency hasn’t posted even one.

I get calls every month from faux charities, and I haven’t yet found one that was registered with the state pursuant to Senate Bill 62. I assume one reason is that the faux charities know Nevada’s lack of effective regulation in this area. It will be interesting to see if Cisco Aguilar, the new Secretary of State who took office earlier this month, changes anything. I’m not hopeful.

As for ABCC, its four-year history is a bit murky. The inclusion of the word “coalition” in its name implies a combination of two or more entities or at least persons. But there’s no indication ABCC’s management has more than one person. That’s a mysterious fellow by the name of Bill Davis, who is listed in various places as treasurer and custodian of records. That IRS Form 990 filing for 2020 said that Davis was ABCC’s only board member and only officer. There weren’t even any employees, suggesting everything was outsourced to independent contractors.

Why, you might ask, did ABCC make its quarterly filings with the IRS when it is the Federal Election Commission that regulates most PACs? The law allows either route. I’m guessing the reason is that while neither agency is terribly vigorous in its oversight, the IRS forms are a lot harder to search and tabulate to produce posts like this, and the overworked IRS far less likely to take a close look.

I emailed a request for comment to ABCC and Davis, raising many of the issues above. I’ll update this post if I hear anything back. We’ll see if any response is as informative as my chat with “Mary Brown.”

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