Oklahoma law enforcement charities pay nearly 80 cents of every donated dollar for fundraising – mostly to telemarketers, an investigation by The Oklahoman has found. Watchdog groups say charities should spend no more than 35 percent of contributions on fundraising, but law enforcement charities seem to run into problems meeting this standard. "When you have these highly inefficient charities siphoning all the resources away from efficient ones, that's not in anyone's best interest,” said Laurie Styron, an analyst with the American Institute of Philanthropy. Of the law enforcement charities looked at by The Oklahoman, only the fledgling Friends of OSBI demonstrated that it met the 35 percent standard. The other law enforcement charities spent 57 to 88 percent of the donations collected on fundraising, according to federal tax forms and records filed with the state in 2009 and 2010. Law enforcement charities spend such a high percentage on fundraising largely because they become dependent on telemarketers, said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. The law enforcement charities said telemarketing saves money and allows them to budget effectively. "It enables us to provide training to law enforcement — federal, state, county, municipal, campus and tribal — at no charge,” said Stacey Puckett, who is the executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oklahoma Police Chiefs Training Foundation. "It may not seem like a lot of money coming to us, but it certainly enables us to operate our training at no cost, which allows us to save the municipalities money,” she said.
The law and telemarketersAccording to paperwork filed with the secretary of state and Internal Revenue Service, five Oklahoma law enforcement charities use telemarketers: Oklahoma State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, Oklahoma Police Chiefs Training Foundation, Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, Oklahoma State Troopers Association and Oklahoma Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Contracts allow the telemarketers to keep 71 to 88 percent of the money collected. While the percentage telemarketers get may seem high, such contracts are prudent to some. "When you look at the costs of the employees and the benefits and the expenses they have to provide ... it saves me an enormous amount of money,” Puckett said. Russ Higbie, executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs and Peace Officer Association, is not a fan of telemarketing. But when the association was formed in the 1960s it was pretty much the only such organization. Now, the association is one of many law enforcement groups. "Each organization is competing for the same dollar to exist,” he said. "It's just horrible, but what else can you do. It's just where we are.” When giving to law enforcement charities, donors should not assume the person on the other end of the line is a police officer, Weiner said. Charities should have control over the scripts telemarketers are using and be able to review taped calls at any time, Weiner said. Fundraisers working for law enforcement groups might word their introduction in a way "that makes it sound like they're calling from the local police department,” Styron said. Such actions got the telemarketer working for the Oklahoma State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police banned in March by the Federal Trade Commission. Civic Development Group also was fined $18.8 million for misleading people into believing they were donating directly to charities serving police, firefighters and veterans when only a small part of the donations actually went to the charities. The telemarketing firms' owners were forced to turn over million-dollar homes, paintings by Picasso and Van Gogh and several luxury cars. Civic Development Group's contract with the state Fraternal Order of Police was for the telemarketer to keep 88 percent of the donations. Ron Bartmier, president of the Oklahoma police group, said they never received complaints about the fundraising company but just "inquiries about legitimacy.” The Oklahoman's Watchdog Team: Looking out for you. Go to NewsOK.com/watchdog.