ST. PAUL-Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson accused a Florida-based charity of misleading Minnesota donors, including many elderly, in a new lawsuit Wednesday, Oct. 10.
Swanson alleged the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens violated Minnesota's charitable solicitation laws and was not following the guidelines of a 1996 court settlement with the state that cited similar behavior by the organization. The latest lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County District Court.
The Florida charity promoted a "Police Family Survivors Fund" and told donors "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." But only 17 percent of the money raised by the fund in 2017 was given to police family survivors, the Minnesota lawsuit alleges. The remaining 83 percent of the donations were used to promote nonrelated "public education" efforts inserted into their fundraising materials.
"Police officers put their lives on the line every day for their communities," Swanson said. "It is wrong for any organization to try to take advantage of public sympathy for the losses of the families of fallen heroes."
Officials with the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizen could not be reached for comment.
Thousands of donors, elderly targeted
More than 10,000 Minnesotans donated to the organization from 2011 to June 2017, totaling around $425,000, according to the Minnesota attorney general's office.
According to the lawsuit, the group targeted elderly donors by buying the donor lists of women over 70 years old who had given to other charities, such as those giving to the Association for Mature Americans and the Alliance for Retired Americans.
The charity also sent out "planned giving newsletters" encouraging donors to include the organization in their wills. In June 2015, the nonprofit sent out more than 50,000 newsletters, of which around 41,000 targeted donors over the age of 75, according to the complaint.
Misstated financials and police warnings
The lawsuit also accuses the charity of misstatements in financial reports to the Minnesota attorney general's office by including fundraising costs as program expenses to increase perception of the group's charitable giving.
Police departments across the country have issued warnings to potential donors that the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens is not affiliated with their departments and any donations made to the charity would not be set aside to aid local police families, according to the complaint.
In 2017, the nonprofit raised $4,012,760 in contributions and claimed $4,010,540 in expenses, according to financial disclosures.
Wednesday's lawsuit asks that the organization be ordered to return money to donors and stop seeking donations in Minnesota.
Tips before you donate
The attorney general's office also issued several tips for residents who are considering donating, including:
• Investigate how a charity uses donations it receives. One way is by using the "Search for Charities" tab on the attorney general's website, www.ag.state.mn.us.
• Don't feel pressured to donate on the spot just because a charity claims to have an urgent need. Reputable charities will happily accept your donation when you are ready to give.
• If you can't tell if a charity asking for money for police officers or firefighters will actually help those in your community, call your local police or fire department and ask.
The Minnesota attorney general's office encouraged any people with similar complaints or situations to contact them at 651-296-3353 or 800-657-3787.