Today, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam outlined a legislative proposal to protect consumers from fraudulent and deceptive charity activities. Commissioner Putnam worked with the Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi, Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Jim Boyd to draft the legislation, filed in the Senate as S.B. 638.
"It is infuriating to think that, in some cases, only pennies of Floridians' hard-earned contributions went toward the causes they were told their donations would support," said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. "I take my responsibility to safeguard consumers very seriously, and I am committed to cracking down on organizations that mislead consumers in the name of veterans, terminally-ill children and other important causes."
The legislation would:
- Ban organizations that have violated certain laws in other states from soliciting funds in Florida.
- Prohibit felons from soliciting funds for charity.
- Require professional solicitors who operate like telemarketers to provide fingerprints for background checks, submit scripts used to conduct solicitations and report the percentage of contributions collected that will be provided to the charity.
- Require charities that receive more than $500,000 in a year to submit an independently reviewed financial statement, and those that receive more than $1 million in a year to provide an independently audited financial statement. If a charity receives more than $1 million, but spends less than 25 percent on its cause, it will be required to provide even more information, including board members and family relationships between board members and staff.
- Increase fines for fraudulent or deceptive acts in violation of the law.
General Bondi expressed her support for the measure to protect Floridians.
"So many Floridians selflessly give their hard-earned money to charitable organizations, and we must protect them from those who seek to misuse funds and exploit generous individuals." said General Bondi. "This proposal will provide additional safeguards to better protect legitimate charities and the Floridians who give to them."
Sen. Brandes and Rep. Boyd joined Commissioner Putnam at the Florida Nonprofit Alliance Symposium, where he outlined the legislation.
"The hard work of great charities who selflessly serve Floridians on a daily basis should be commended," said Sen. Brandes. "Unfortunately, some unprincipled individuals start fraudulent enterprises that pose a clear danger to legitimate groups. This legislation will fight deceptive and corrupt operations that are profiteering from noble causes. I am honored to work with Commissioner Putnam and Rep. Boyd on this initiative."
The legislation would also create an interactive online database where consumers can access the information charities will be required to report. Information made available online would include: leadership, location, contact information, financial reports and actions taken by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for violations. With this information, Floridians can make informed decisions when choosing which organizations deserve their support
"Our proposal will increase scrutiny on charities that pose the greatest threat and increase transparency so consumers are better equipped to make informed decisions about which charities they choose to support," said Rep. Boyd.
Commissioner Putnam also worked with leaders of charitable organizations in Florida in developing the legislation to mitigate the burden of increased requirements on legitimate, law-abiding charities. Members of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance backed the legislation outlined today.
"In the aftermath of every major disaster, generous, good-hearted Floridians have been duped into contributing their hard earned money to unscrupulous organizations claiming they are helping disaster victims but that, in reality, are only using the money to feather their own pockets," said Ted Granger, President, United Way of Florida, Inc. " The United Way of Florida applauds Commissioner Putnam for the aggressive action he is taking through this good bill to put these financial predators out of business."
"We are proud to work with Commissioner Putnam to protect Floridians who contribute their hard earned dollars to charitable causes," said Rena Coughlin, Board of Directors, Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida. "This legislation will help strengthen Florida's vast network of charitable organizations and ensure the most of every dollar Floridians give will go toward the cause it is intended to support. I appreciate the leadership and partnership of Commissioner Putnam in taking on this issue."
"Florida Philanthropic Network works to strengthen and grow philanthropy in Florida, and we believe Commissioner Putnam's proposed revisions to the state's charity laws will help ensure a strong environment for charitable giving in the state," said David Biemesderfer, President and CEO of Florida Philanthropic Network.
View the full text of the legislation here.
For tips on how to properly research a non-profit before donating, check out 10 Investigates' tipsheet.