Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin Announce Legislation to Improve Transparency and Accountability for Commercial Charitable Fundraisers

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
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SACRAMENTO - Today, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks) unveiled legislation aimed at maintaining consumer confidence in charitable giving.  The bill would close a loophole in disclosure requirements for paid commercial fundraising campaigns and include for-profit fundraising firms and other third parties who engage in misconduct in the Attorney General’s 10-year statute of limitations.

“Californians should have complete confidence that the donation they make to a charitable organization will go toward the cause they support, and feel secure knowing their gift won’t be diverted to the pockets of a third-party, for-profit fundraiser,” said Attorney General Harris.  “I thank Assemblymember Irwin for standing with me to increase transparency and empower Californians with the information they need to donate wisely.”

Assembly Bill 556 closes a loophole in existing charitable giving transparency requirements that currently allows third parties to solicit funds from donors without disclosing whether a portion of their gift will be diverted to a paid company by establishing their operations as “fundraising counsel” instead of “commercial fundraisers.”  Attorney General Harris’ office recently released a report summarizing the results of charitable solicitation campaigns conducted by commercial fundraisers in 2013, which reveals the alarming extent to which charitable donations are often diverted to for-profit companies.

For-profit third party fundraisers played a role in a recent charity enforcement case, People v. Help Hospitalized Veterans, where a charitable fraud scheme included directing nearly three-quarters of the gross revenue made to for-profit fundraising campaigns in which the charity’s “fundraising counsel” was not required to disclose in their direct mail pieces that a paid professional fundraiser was profiting from each donation.

In addition, because of a gap in the Government Code’s statute of limitations for charitable misconduct lawsuits, not all parties responsible for the fraud in the Help Hospitalized Veterans case were able to be held accountable.  AB 556 will expand the statute to include enforcement actions against commercial fundraisers, fundraising counsel, and other third party entities that aid and abet the exploitation of charitable assets.  This ten year window is often necessary in such cases, which are complex, fact-intensive, and cover misconduct occurring over an extended period of time.

“As a city councilmember and board member of local nonprofits in Ventura County, I saw the enormous positive impact that charities have on our communities,” said Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks). “AB 556 will help keep bad behavior by a few from undermining the confidence that Californians have in the more than 70,000 active nonprofit organizations doing great work in California.  I commend Attorney General Kamala Harris for her work on this issue and look forward to working with her on AB 556.”

In late 2014, a comprehensive report on California’s non-profit sector, Causes Count, was issued by the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits), a “chamber of commerce” representing 9,200 nonprofits. According to the report, California’s charitable organizations contribute 15 percent — or one-sixth — of California’s Gross State Product.

“California nonprofits are trusted institutions,” said Jan Masaoka, CEO of CalNonprofits. “We support legislation like AB 556 that closes gaps in the law that no legitimate charity needs to exploit to fulfill its mission.  We appreciate that Attorney General Harris and Assemblymember Irwin support the non-profit sector’s role in California as an economic driver, an innovation leader, and a champion for hope and opportunity, always looking toward a better future.”

Legislative text available here.

View the Attorney General’s report on charitable solicitation campaigns conducted by commercial fundraisers here.

Read CalNonprofits’ Causes Count report here.

Assemblymember Irwin’s Website:

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