Allied Veterans Scam Prompts Charity Reform Proposal
In the wake of an alleged charity scam that helped cost the state's former lieutenant governor her job, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and a pair of lawmakers are pushing legislation that would tighten rules on non-profit organizations.
The measure is aimed at giving the state and consumers more information about what charities, particularly those that raise large amounts of money, are doing with contributions. Putnam unveiled the legislation Wednesday at a meeting of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance, where members largely seemed receptive.
It comes less than a year after state and federal authorities arrested 57 people associated with St. Augustine-based Allied Veterans of the World, which was accused of posing as a charity while running a $300 million illegal gambling ring through dozens of Internet cafes around the state. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned in March amid revelations that a company she co-owned while serving earlier in the Legislature provided consulting services for Allied Veterans.
Carroll was never charged with any wrongdoing.
Putnam said the measure is not meant to "give busy people one less reason to give back" by making it more difficult to be involved in legitimate charities.
"But if you're using shell games and an umbrella organization to hide a multimillion-dollar operation that is criminal in nature, where millions of dollars are flowing in under the guise that you're helping veterans, those days are over," he said.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, conceded that the Allied Veterans scandal was part of a wave of increased scrutiny on nonprofits that prompted the bill.
"I think obviously that's one reason that we're providing such intense focus on it this year," said Brandes, who is sponsoring the Senate version of the measure (SB 638).
The bill would bar organizations that broke some laws in other states from soliciting money in Florida; prohibit felons from raising money for charity; increase reporting requirements for larger charities, particularly those that spend less than a quarter of the money they raise on charitable activities; and require information from companies that solicit donations for charities over the phone.
Much of the information would go into a statewide database that could be accessed online.
The proposal would also make it more difficult to shift money among various entities, like Allied Veterans did, without drawing attention, Putnam said.
The legislation calls for $175,000 to implement the bill.
Legitimate charities are largely lining up behind the measure.
"It's so nice to hear that some oversight and some quality assurance in the nonprofit field is coming our way," said Pam Truitt, with the Patterson Foundation in Sarasota.