Firefighter faux charity illegally soliciting in Las Vegas still spends nothing on stated mission

firefighter faux charityOne thing you have to say for National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters PAC: It’s consistent.

When a robocall computer using a voice powered by soundboard technology called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters in mid-2020 asking for a donation to the political action committee, I did a little research. It turned out the PAC, ostensibly based in Boston, had raised $240,000 in donations across the country. But its own public records showed it hadn’t given even a single penny to any political campaign in further of its main stated mission, which is to support the causes of, well, volunteer firefighters.

Clearly, NCVF PAC was what I call a faux charity. That’s a PAC that presents as a charity but isn’t and spends almost all the money raised on fundraising and overhead and undisclosed compensation to its organizers. Others call such outfits scam charities.

Fast forward to now. NCVF PAC is still around. Its robocall computer using a voice powered by soundboard technology recently called me again with the same charity-sounding pitch. The call from “Tom Evans” was short, and you can listen to substantially the same pitch with the same fake name as recorded by an anti-robocall web site by clicking here. I did a little more research. In the three-and-a-half-year period since its inception through June 30, 2023, NCVF PAC has receive nearly $5 million in donations around the country, mostly from small Mom and Pop donors. I’ll let you guess how much of that NCVF PAC’s own filings say went to identified political candidates during that entire period, which included two national election seasons.

If you guessed anything greater that zero dollars, you guessed high.

But one thing has changed between the two calls. In 2021, Nevada, where I live, passed a sweeping law prohibiting any organization from fundraising in the Silver State for, among other causes, “the benefit of … firefighting,” without first registering and making filings with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. The prohibition, codified as Nevada Revised Statutes 82A.010 et seq., embraces all entities, including PACs. I checked with the Secretary of State’s Office, and there’s no registration or filings on behalf of NCVF PAC.

So the call I just received was illegal, punishable by civil sanctions including financial penalties. But Nevada regulators have been MIA on this issue of illegal solicitation. Were they to act, though, it wouldn’t be the first time NCVF’s founder has been in the crosshairs of government authorities.

NCVF PAC sprung to life on December 18, 2019, in a three-page public filing with the Internal Revenue Service called “Form 8871 Political Organization Notice of Section 527 Status.” (Section 527 is the federal-law provision authorizing political action committees.) Although PACs can file with the Federal Election Commission, many faux charities choose to file with the IRS, where the reporting forms are much harder for the public (and folks like me) to locate and comprehend. There are no tabulations of expenses by classification but just a list of individual expenses requiring tabulation by hand or on a spreadsheet (as I did).

On the Form 8871, here is the entire answer to a question asking for its purpose: “The National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters mission is to push for the election of candidates who will champion our priority issues affecting volunteer firefighters along with holding elected officials accountable for their votes and actions and to accept contributions and make expenditures for political activity as described in section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code.”

The filing was signed by one Matthew Greenlee, the only named individual, who listed himself as treasurer.

As it turned out, Greenlee had some experience in the field of dodgy firefighter PACs. Exactly a month earlier, on November 18, 2019, Maryland’s Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection issued a press release listing Greenlee as one of two signers to an agreement on behalf of Heroes United PAC, officially described as a “fictitious business seeking donations to benefit local volunteer firefighters.” Using the trade name Volunteer Firefighters Association, Heroes United PAC raised nearly $5 million nationally. It agreed to refund contributions from “scammed residents” of Montgomery County, a well-to-do suburb of Washington, D.C . The press release flatly called Heroes United PAC a “fraudulent business model.”

The other signer, and seemingly the main character, was Zachary Bass, who ran a string of faux charities I had written about after being called (click here and here). Heroes United PAC soon went out of business.

It seems NCVF-PAC was rather hastily put together, at least at the start. The original website said the name of the organization was National “Coalition” for Volunteer Firefighers, rather than “Committee,” as it appeared on regulatory filings. But “Coalition” was changed to “Committee” within hours after I pointed out the discrepancy to Greenlee in an email.

It also seems that at NCVF-PAC, Greenlee was a one-man band, although a lot of work was farmed out. After I first wrote about NCVF PAC in 2020, the organization filed in early 2022 a Form 990 for 2021 with the IRS signed by none other than Greenlee. The return said he was the only officer and the only board member and that the organization had no employees–not even Greenlee–and no volunteers. I’m not sure I ever before have encountered a committee (or even coalition) claiming no official human staffing.

The filing said Greenlee as director and treasurer worked 10 hours a week at NCVF-PAC but drew no “reportable” compensation. This might make him a volunteer, which would conflict with his sworn statement that NCVF-PAC had no volunteers. But in the faux charity world it is common for organizers to receive compensation through such means as undisclosed payments from vendors or even undisclosed ownerships in vendors.

For the year, according to the 990, NCVF-PAC received $1.7 million in donations and spent roughly the same amount. All but about $400,000 was paid to five vendors primarily offering “donor database management and mail services.” The amount of money listed as being spent for “program services,” meaning in furtherance of the stated mission: zero.

That was just one year. Here’s the big picture for NCVF-PAC’s entire three-and-a-half year existence, as I added it up. The faux charity received $4.83 million in contributions. It spent $4.81 million, with, as I noted, virtually all of it going to telemarketing vendors and none of it going directly to political campaigns. As of June 30, 2023, the surplus I calculated–contributions received less expenses–was only about $23,000, which, even if given to sympathetic political candidates, is not a war chest likely to have much effect.

Meanwhile, using traditional metrics for exempt organizations that fund-raise, NCVF-PAC’s financial efficiencies are simply terrible. The charitable commitment ratio–the percent of total expenditures made in direct furtherance of the stated mission (as opposed to for fundraising and other overhead) rounds to 0%. That means none of the expenses did any damn good for anyone (other than NCVF-PAC’s vendors and hidden interests). The fundraising efficiency ratio–the percent of donations remaining after fundraising and related expenses–also rounds to 0%. That means none of the donations did any damn good for anyone (other than NCVF-PAC’s vendors and hidden interests).

As a would-be donor getting a robocall computer using a voice powered by soundboard technology, would you want to know any of this this?

But based on past experience NCVF-PAC and Greenlee have nothing to fear, at least from Nevada regulators. The Secretary of State’s Office admitted to me in June that in nearly two years it has not issued a single cease-and-desist letter or civil penalty for violation of the 2021 law requiring prior registration and filings for fundraisers working for a variety of causes. Besides, firefighting, the law specifically mentions law enforcement and public safety, environmental conservation, patriotic, educational and humane purposes. Judging from the volume of calls I have received, this potentially is hundreds of thousands of violations across Nevada. (To read my previous posts about these kinds of organizations, simply type “faux” into the nearby search box, then jump back at all the hits.)

I emailed a request for comment to Greenlee about many of the points I raise above, and will update this post if I hear back. In 2020 when I first wrote about NCVF-PAC, we had a email back-and-forth. Greenlee denied that Heroes United PAC engaged in any wrongdoing, said he was just on its advisory board and only signed the agreement with Montgomery County with Bass because two signatures were required from Heroes United PAC. He denied Bass or Heroes United PAC had anything to do with NCVF-PAC.

In any event, NCVF-PAC now becomes a candidate for my long-running list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is insanely simple: fundraising organizations that call asking for money despite a previously critical post about them by me. In the world of telemarketing, can it get more moronic than that? The full list of candidates, with links, can be found nearby.

Now that’s consistency.

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