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Minn. nonprofit advertising police funding duped donors

The money raised for officers instead went to a company

Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — With the holidays in mind, Cherise Kobler wanted to give money to police officers this month. So when her husband got a fundraising call from an organization seeking donations for cops and their families at Christmas, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

Kobler, a stay-at-home mom from St. Cloud, went online to check out the Police Officers Alliance of Minnesota and found out the nonprofit organization had raised more than $1 million in contributions over the past four years, but none of that money was distributed to needy officers. Instead, more than 80 percent of the money raised on behalf of the Police Officers Alliance of Minnesota went to its professional fundraising company. The rest of the money was used mostly for lobbying for public safety legislation and officers' rights and administrative costs.

"My issue is we're paying the administrative and fundraising fees and we're not helping police officers, which is what they say they're doing," Kobler said. "I feel like they've snowballed everybody, and it's not right."

Lyall Delaney, president of the Police Officers Alliance of Minnesota and a Minneapolis officer, said his organization is a lobbying group that contracts with Midwest Publishing Inc., to make its solicitations. After Whistleblower notified Delaney of Kobler's complaint, he inquired with the company and determined that one of its employees had not followed the approved script, which explains the mission of the alliance. The employee was fired, he said.

"[Midwest Publishing] apologized," Delaney said. "This is not the way they do business. It puts our organization in a bad light."

A mission of lobbying

The Police Officers Alliance of Minnesota was created in 2004 as a nonprofit organization that would "work to improve the compensation, benefits and working conditions for peace officers." On its website, it is described as "a state-wide organization for peace officers that is unaffiliated with any specific labor union and that operates under sound financial principles."

Delaney said the alliance has pushed the Legislature to increase penalties for assaulting a police officer, to eliminate residency requirements for officers and to increase the amount that officers are reimbursed for bullet-resistant vests. He said the organization also holds a training program on how to run police associations.

Delaney, who serves as treasurer of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, is listed as the registered lobbyist for the Police Officers Alliance. The board of directors includes officials from the Minneapolis police union, state Fraternal Order of Police, and Hennepin County Sheriffs Deputies Association. According to its tax returns, the organization spent $53,000 on a lobbyist and legislative expenses from 2005 to 2007.

Delaney said the organization uses a professional fundraiser because it can't afford to hire staff to do it. If a potential donor asks how the money is distributed, the Midwest Publishing employee is supposed to explain the split, he said.

"It's a way to generate revenue," Delaney said. "If you look at many of the organizations that use telemarketing, that's a pretty common split."

According to the state attorney general's office, 15 percent of the 8,000 registered charitable organizations use professional fundraisers. The state doesn't regulate how much money charities should use for programs and services.

Groups that review charities typically recommend that fundraising and administrative fees take up no more than 35 percent of an organization's budget. Charity Navigator, a national nonprofit organization that rates charities, said the majority of the 5,000 charities it evaluates spend less than 10 percent of their budgets on fundraising costs and at least 75 percent of their budgets on programs and services.

"When it's skewed the other way, it's not a good thing," said Matthew Viola, a senior analyst with Charity Navigator.

Copyright 2010 Star Tribune

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