Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Attorney General Lori Swanson Sues Charity That Claims To Help Families Of Fallen Police Officers
Lawsuit Cites Company As Repeat Violator Of Minnesota Charity Laws
Attorney General Lori Swanson today filed a lawsuit against American Federation of Police & Concerned Citizens, Inc. (“AFPCC”) of Florida for deceptively representing that donations would primarily be used to help families of officers killed in the line of duty, when only a small percentage of funds went to such purposes.
“Police officers put their lives on the line every day for their communities. It is wrong for any organization to try to take advantage of public sympathy for the losses of the families of fallen heroes,” said Attorney General Lori Swanson.
AFPCC was previously sued by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office in 1995 for the same conduct. Police departments around the country have issued alerts warning the public about AFPCC.
AFPCC solicits donations by heavily promoting its “Police Family Survivors Fund” and telling prospective donors that their donations will primarily or exclusively support the Fund and its grants, scholarships, and gifts to families of fallen officers. For example, mailings sent by AFPCC have said things like:
- Support our “2016 Hennepin County Area Annual Appeal for the Police Family Survivor’s Fund.”
- “Whatever donation you send will be greatly appreciated and put toward our Police Family Survivors Fund immediately.”
- “100% of any contribution you make in response to this emergency appeal will be used to help a police family get through the worst days of their lives. 100%—every penny of your gift—will immediately be used to provide Emergency Financial Assistance to a grieving family use policy officer was killed in the line of duty.”
In fact, the “Police Family Survivors Fund” made up only 17% of AFPCC’s charitable spending in 2017 and only 9% of the $4 million in total donations AFPCC received in 2017. The rest (83% of spending) was spent on supposed “public education” efforts, the majority of which consisted of inserting notes into its fundraising solicitations reminding people to have their neighbor get their newspaper when they’re away from home, water their Christmas trees, wash their hands, and the like.
The lawsuit also alleges that AFPCC misrepresented that GuideStar, a well-known organization that disseminates information about charities, “certifies that we use your contributions the way you intend—to comfort and assist policy family survivors.” In fact, GuideStar does not certify or endorse a charity’s use of donations or programs.
The lawsuit further alleges that AFPCC misstated the financial reports it filed with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by misreporting the cost of fundraising as program expenses to boost public’s perception that it spent more on charitable programs than it really did. The lawsuit alleges that had AFPCC properly completed its financial filings, it should have reported that only 27% of donations were spent on charitable programs (vs. overhead and fundraising).
AFPCC aimed many of its fundraising solicitations at senior citizens. For example, AFPCC purchased lists of recent “donors females age 70+” (to other charities) and donors to the “Association for Mature Americans” and the “Alliance for Retired Americans,” among others.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office sued AFPCC in 1995 for overstating the support it gave to families of fallen officers and misleading donors that its fundraising would benefit a particular local community. In a 1996 Consent Decree, AFPCC was ordered not to misrepresent that the Fund was its primary charitable program or fail to disclose a description of its primary charitable programs. AFPCC was also ordered not to place the name of any town, city or community in close proximity to the phrase “fundraising goal”, so as to prevent AFPCC from misleading donors into believing their donation would help the families of officers in the local community. The complaint alleges that AFPCC violated these terms.
AFPCC received over $425,000 from more than 10,000 Minnesota donors between 2011 and June 2017.
AFPCC is not affiliated with any federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies and is not a fraternal organization, professional association, or bargaining unit for law enforcement personnel.
The lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County District Court and alleges that AFPCC violated state charities laws and the 1996 consent decree.
Tips before donating to charities claiming to help first responders:
- Do your homework first. Investigate how a charity actually uses donations that it receives. People can research this information using the “Search for Charities” tab of Attorney General’s website, www.ag.state.mn.us, or by calling the Attorney General’s Office at (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787.
- Be wary of high-pressure tactics. Don’t feel pressured to donate on the spot just because a charity claims to have an urgent need. This should be especially true if the person asking for money contacts you through unrequested telemarketing calls or mail solicitations. Reputable charities will happily accept your donation when you are ready to give.
- Contact your local first responders. If you can’t tell if a charity asking for money for police officers or firefighters will actually help those that serve your community, call your police or fire department and ask. They can tell you if they are familiar with the charity and if it supports their agency.
People may report complaints about similar situations to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787. People may also download a Complaint Form by clicking here, and mailing the completed form to the Attorney General’s Office at: 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101-2130.
Whether it’s stopping a crime in progress, or running into a burning building to save a life, our local police and fire departments put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. A few simple guidelines can ensure that contributions actually benefit the brave men and women who keep us safe in our communities.