The grandly named American Breast Cancer Coalition PAC is, to put it mildly, a misnomer. The dictionary definition of “coalition” connotes some kind of plurality. But ABCC-PAC has no employees, no volunteers and just one part-time board member/officer.
Nor has the organization ever fought breast cancer institutionally in any real way. This conclusion is based on its own federal filings–under oath, no less!–showing that 0% was spent toward that worthy cause from the millions of dollars raised using outside vendors during its entire four years of existence.
ABCC-PAC is itself a cancer, on society. The organization is what I call a faux charity. That’s a political action committee that presents like a meritorious exempt organization as it cold-calls unsuspecting Mom and Pop donors, in Las Vegas and elsewhere nationally, with a slick pitch and a quick ask. It’s counting on complete suckers at the other end of the phone line. Sadly, faux charities often find them. Some call these outfits scam charities.
At least in Las Vegas, where I live, ABCC-PAC gets away with this partly by flouting a Nevada law prohibiting fundraisers, including PACs, from soliciting in the state for, among other causes, “any … public health … purpose” without first registering with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office (SOSO) and making financial filings. ABCC-PAC is not registered and never has been. SOSO has the power to issue cease-and-desist orders and levy civil financial penalties. But it never has done so, against ABCC-PAC or any of the dozens of faux charities likely making hundreds of thousands of similar calls a year to my fellow Nevadans.
How big a player in Nevada telemarketing is ABCC-PAC, which lists an address in Washington, D.C.? I have no idea. But it’s called me twice this year alone at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. And I’m in just one of the Silver State’s 1.25 million households.
On a recent afternoon, here’s the pitch I heard after the phone rang–showing a Nevada number on the caller ID–and I answered:
Hi. It’s Cathy Sanders with the American Breast Cancer Coalition PAC. We’re having our fund drive because, tragically, over 100 women die every day from this deadly disease, many because their breast cancer was not caught in time. Now our hope is for fast-track approval of life-saving tests and medicine for women who cannot afford it, and to elect lawmakers who support these goals. Now, when you receive your donation return envelope can we count on you to return a small donation for the drive?
Certainly sounds from the pitch like ABCC-PAC was going to rush out with all donations to help fight cancer, with political activity a minor after-thought, right? Dream on.
“Cathy Sanders” (I’m guessing at the spelling) was not a real person but an artificial computer-generated voice monitored by a human operator using what is known as soundboard technology. That’s why I put the name in quotes.
Playing along, I eventually was switched to “Kate Smith,” another soundboard voice and not the famous “God Bless America” singer, who died in 1986. The job of this “Kate Smith” was to take down (or tape-record) details of a possible donation. Beating “Kate” to the punch, I asked what year ABCC-PAC was created. The response: “You know, that’s a really good question. And I want to make sure you have the right answer. So let me refer you to our website at www.breastcancerpac.org.”
Having been called before by ABCC-PAC, I was familiar with that website. The year of creation is not listed on it. Our call quickly came to a close after “Kate” told me I would be added to ABCC-PAC’s do-not-call list. I did not pledge a donation.
It was then I started another deep dive into all of ABCC-PAC’s public filings with the Internal Revenue Service, which shares regulatory authority over PACs with the Federal Election Commission. In my view both federal agencies do a terrible job of overseeing PACs. But the faux charities prefer filing with the IRS. There is less agency staffing. The forms are harder to find online. And they’re more difficult to analyze unless you’re a journalist like me who has been writing for decades about exempt organizations.
Answering the question that flummoxed “Kate Smith,” ABCC-PAC was formed on May 14, 2019, by one Bill Davis. He signed and filed an IRS Form 8871 “Political Organization Notice of Section 527 Status” (the Internal Revenue Code provision authorizing PACs) in which he was the only person named, claiming the titles Treasurer and Custodian of Records. Here was the stated purpose of the organization: “To advocate for the collective needs of people affected by breast cancer by holding elected officials accountable for their votes and actions, and push for the election of candidates who will champion our priority issues, and to accept contributions and make expenditures for political activity.” Internet records show the website domain name was only registered a month earlier.
Since then, ABCC-PAC has filed 12 periodic reports of receipts and expenditures through June 30, 2023. They tell a sad story unless for some perverse reason you’re in favor of breast cancer.
ABCC-PAC received $6.6 million in small donations and spent roughly the same amount. But almost all the expenses went for fundraising and related overhead, and administrative costs. The filings showed not a single contribution to a political candidate–not one dime–even though the period included the important federal election cycles of 2020 and 2022. Some $29,000 was listed as being spent last year on “voter advocacy and outreach.” I’ll credit that as being toward the elusive mission of fighting breast cancer. But it’s an immaterial amount.
Were ABCC-PAC the charity it hopes would-be donors believe, its charitable commitment ratio–the percent of total expenditures spent in furtherance of the stated mission–was 0.4%, or just 40 cents of every $100 spent. This rounds to 0%. The other $99.60 of that $100.00? Poof! (Charity watchdogs say the charitable commitment ratio for reputable charities should be no lower than 65%–more than 160 times higher than 0.4%!).
Were ABCC-PAC the charity it hopes would-be donors believe, its fundraising efficiency ratio–the percent of donations after subtracting fundraising and related costs–was equally bad at 0.4%, or just 40 cents remaining from that $100.00 donation. This, too, rounds to 0%. The other $99.60 of that $100.00? Poof again! (Charity watchdogs say the fundraising efficiency ratio for reputable charities also should be no lower than 65%–again more than 160 times higher!)
Nor is ABCC-PAC amassing a war chest for a future political blitzkrieg. Based on its filings, the organization likely had less than $12,000 in the bank on June 30, 2023, which won’t cure a lot of breast cancer or elect sympathetic candidates.
Along the way, ABCC-PAC filed two IRS Form 990 tax returns, for calendar year 2020 and 2021, signed under penalty of perjury by Davis himself. They listed no staffing paid or volunteer. Davis swore under oath he worked 10 hours a week, even though the 990s listed no salary for him. I think it likely he received compensation from outside vendors in the form of undisclosed compensation or even from ownership interests.
In 2021, just five vendors received 83% of the money ABCC-PAC spent. Here, according to ABCC-PAC’s own filing, is what they did: donor database management, mail service, donor outreach, vendor management, administrative consulting and accounting. Missing was anything connoting advocacy of more robust health care. Those vendors, by the way, pop up in filings of other faux charities, as does the the tax preparer who works out of Tennessee.
When ABCC-PAC called me back in January, the soundboard name was “Mary Brown.” When I asked what ABCC-PAC would do with any contribution, “Mary” hung up after saying I would be put on the do-not-call list. This obviously was not done. What a surprise! I wrote up the encounter, which you can read by clicking here.
As a result of the latest pitch, ABCC-PAC becomes the newest candidate for my venerable list of America’s Stupidest Charities. This consists of fundraising organizations that call asking for money despite a previously post shredding them by me. In the world of telemarketing, can it get dumber than that? The full list of candidates, with links, can be found nearby.
Last week, I emailed a request for comment to Davis and ABCC-PAC at the address listed on its latest IRS filing, detailing many of the points above. I’ll update this post if I hear back, which I regard as unlikely.
Visitors to the space know I’ve been a broken record for years on the issue of fundraising regulatory shortcomings in Nevada, and by implication nationally. If you’re a first-time reader, welcome! Simply punch “faux charity” into the nearby search box to see my previous rantings.
I didn’t send a request for comment about this call to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office–SOSO–which I regard as culpable because it’s the primary regulator under Nevada law of fundraising pitches and disclosure requirements. Why not? In the spring, I asked SOSO’s PR operation for specific comment on, as I put it, “my perception of shortcomings in the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and a failure to protect the public.” I never received a response on that point, which I guess could be construed as an admission.
SOSO: Now there’s an apt acronym for a government agency if I ever saw one.