Shameful deception in the name of supporting firefighter charities
Hernando TodayThe issue: Union fundraiser spends 85 percent of collections on salaries and other expenses. Our opinion: A disgraceful practice that unions should cease and lawmakers should investigate.
Published: December 12, 2009
Published: December 12, 2009
Would you donate $100 to a local firefighter's union if you knew that $85 of your contribution was actually going to pay for salaries and other expenses of a telemarketing firm posing as a charity fundraiser?
We didn't think so.
However, that's exactly what both firefighter unions in Hernando County are doing. Hernando County Professional Firefighters Local 3760 and the Professional Firefighters of Spring Hill do business with Bay Area Council Inc., a telemarketing firm that solicits donations from area residents and distributes the proceeds to the two firefighter unions in Hernando County and six others throughout the Tampa Bay area.
According to documents obtained by Hernando Today from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bay Area Council collected about $2.3 million in donations from area residents from 2004-07 but distributed a paltry $348,000 to its eight union affiliates.
That's a measly 15 cents for every dollar collected - the crumbs of kindness.
If that's not criminal, it surely is immoral. It's also a shameful revelation about how these unions collect donations in the good name of firefighters to enhance the union's public image.
They should be ashamed.
This deceptive practice needs to be stopped. It's little more than a consumer rip-off.
We'd also like to know exactly how much each of our local firefighter unions received from Bay Area Council and exactly how much they gave to which charities. The Hernando County Professional Firefighters Local agreed to comply with our request, but the Professional Firefighters of Spring Hill refused.
What do they have to hide?
Anyone who accepts donations from the public should make public the proceeds they received and the exact disbursements made. To hide that information is unethical. No one should donate to such organizations.
We can't imagine taking credit for delivering a check to a local charity that in reality is receiving only 15 percent of the donations collected - funds solicited from unsuspecting Hernando County residents duped into believing their local firefighters were raising money to help less fortunate residents in our community.
Bay Area Council is simply a telemarketing firm run out of a tiny office in a strip mall in Port Richey. The organization still has not submitted its 2008 financials to the state. Added to that, its registration with the state expired July 15.
Bay Area Council continues to solicit donations from area residents even though telemarketing agencies are legally prohibited from soliciting once their registration expires and is not renewed.
Added to that, Bay Area Council has been under investigation by the state since September and twice in the past has failed to comply with state requirements before being reinstated.
In addition to the two Hernando County firefighter unions, Bay Area Council's clients also include Citrus County Professional Paramedics and EMTs, Hillsborough Firefighters Benevolent Association, New Port Richey Firefighters, Pasco County Council of Firefighters, Polk County Firefighters and Zephyrhills Professional Firefighters.
So what does Bay Area Council President Ron Howell have to say about all this?
He can't be reached for comment. Multiple calls to Bay Area Council's 1-800 number and Howell's cell phone have not been returned.
Hernando Today reporter Tony Holt's attempt to visit the telemarketing firm's office in Port Richey was also without success. Two people inside ignored Holt's knocking. He left his business card and a note seeking comment.
We haven't heard from anyone associated with Bay Area Council.
There are many worthy and worthwhile charities in Hernando County struggling in this economy to meet the needs of those who are suffering. Organizations like Bay Area Council and the firefighter unions they solicit donations for are a pox on the efforts of legitimate organizations to help the truly needy and downtrodden.
Which poses another question: Why are these firefighter unions even in the business of acting as third-party charity givers? They're like middlemen in a deal they have no stake in, passing out other people's money but taking all the credit for doing nothing. Unbeknownst to the donors, 85 percent of their gift was squandered.
We're not big fans of enacting new laws; however, this case screams for it. There ought to be a law that organizations soliciting funds for charitable giving be required to disburse a far greater percentage of their revenues to charity than the expenses they incur. If they can't meet a set industry standard, then they lose their state registration to solicit donations.
The organizations should also be required to publish their financial statements each year on a specific date in the newspapers of record where they solicit donations. That would hold the charities accountable to the public and show those who donate which charities give the most back to those in need.
Such measurers would put unscrupulous organizations like Bay Area Council out of business and force firefighter unions to seek legitimate public-relations efforts.