Nevada appears to be one of the very few states with a law on the books giving regulators an extremely easy way to crack down on what I call “faux charities.’ These are political action committees that sound like charities benefiting such causes as law enforcement or veterans when they cold-call you asking you for money but aren’t. Instead, they spend almost all the money raised in fundraising and hidden fees for their operators. Donors usually don’t even know they’ve been rooked. These callers don’t go out of their way to point out that any donations are not tax-deductible, and sometimes falsely say they are charities. I’ve been writing about these outfits for years. (In the nearby search box, just enter “faux charity”–and watch the hits explode on your screen.) Others call them “scam charities.”
In 2021 the Nevada legislature passed, and then-Gov. Steve Sisolak signed, Senate Bill 62, which prohibits just about any non-religious outfit from soliciting donations within the state for a variety of causes, specifically identifying public safety, veterans, health care and anything sounding charitable, without first making filings with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office that include financial information. The previous law required state registration only from traditional non-religious 501(c)(3) charities. As codified at Nevada Revised Statutes NRS 82A.025 et seq., the law gave the SOSO broad power to issue cease-and-desist orders, issue fines and presumably draw public attention to the issue. The law took effect October 1, 2021. No filing followed by a call asking for money? Bang, it’s a violation, leading to discipline and, perhaps, a scorching press release.
Simple, you think? Well, just 12 days after the law took effect, I wrote, “Let’s all join the watch party … We’ll see if Nevada regulators invoke their brand new law requiring registration before soliciting.”
In the intervening 20 months, I’ve been solicited scores of times by faux charities, some repeatedly. I’ve checked after each contact with the SOSO: Not a single one–not one--has been registered in compliance with NRS 82A.025 et seq. They all have dreadful financial inefficiencies, too. It’s not unreasonable for me to assume there have been hundreds of thousands of illegal pitches in Nevada, and more than a few dollars handed over to shady characters who do not spend much of the funds on the stated mission of influencing politics.
So last week, I filed a formal Nevada Public Records Act request with the SOSO. I asked for “copies of paperwork from your agency memorializing all fines and cease-and-desist orders issued against soliciting fundraisers” in violation of NRS 82A.025 et seq.
A few days ago, I received in writing my reply: “The Secretary of State’s Office has not issued any fines or cease-and-desist orders pursuant to NRS 82A.025 and therefore does not have any public records responsive” to my request. The letter was signed “The Office of the Secretary of State,” with no name attached.
At least give the SOSO high marks for speed and some candor here in its breathtaking MIA admission. But I’m still waiting for a response to my earlier request for comment “about my perception of shortcomings in the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and a failure to protect the public.”
In Nevada the Secretary of State is an elected position and technically the state’s third highest government official. In recent decades, the post has alternated between Democrats and Republicans. The current officeholder is Democrat Francisco (Cisco) Aguilar, a Las Vegas lawyer who took office in January. The agency’s duties include overseeing elections, accepting corporation filings–and in theory, at least, policing fundraising.
While Carson City fiddles, things burn nationally on this issue. The New York Times reports today that federal prosecutors in the vaunted Southern District of New York have subpenaed 10 faux charities asking for tape-recordings of their fundraising calls. Three of them have called me at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, encounters that I have written up: American Police Officers Alliance, Firefighters and EMS Fund, and National Police Support Fund.
One subpena was issued a day after The Times wrote a long exposé starting on the front page about faux charities, including the three I had described, that took in $89 million of donations over a period of years. That article, and the one today about prosecutorial interest, were co-authored by David Fahrenthold. Years ago, he won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing Donald J. Trump’s charitable shenanigans. He has a track record.
So, sadly, does the SOSO. The agency seems to have had problems going way back. In 1991–more than three decades ago–I wrote a story for Forbes about how the SOSO granted permission to do business in Nevada to a nonexistent company with an obviously made-up name, Banco de Asia, incorporated in a nonexistent country with an even more eyebrow-raising name, the Dominion of Melchizedek. Both were inventions of the many-time convicted swindler, Branch Vinedresser, a/k/a Mark Logan Pedley a/k/a Tzemach Ben David Netzer Korem, who repeatedly has been a resident of federal housing. SOSO officials told me back then that Nevada law does not require them to check if a company is chartered in a real jurisdiction. I wrote, “Wonder what they’ll say after some Nevada residents get hosed.”
I might ask the same question now. This SOSO watch party has been running a long time.