Anti-child abuse group is stunned by state's crackdown on charities

October 08, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

To hear Gloria Goldfaden tell it, news that her organization -- People Against Child Abuse Inc. -- was in danger of losing its state charitable registration hit her out of the blue.

Sure, state officials sent her a letter back in August telling her they made a "preliminary decision" to revoke the registration by September 25. But she had asked for a hearing and extension until the end of October. She thought the Annapolis-based PACA was in good shape.

Then the telephone rang Monday. She was astounded, she said, when a reporter asked why the group had been "preliminarily revoked."

"We are in a complete state of shock," she said, after learning that Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. cited PACA with seven other groups in a press release for failing to comply with state regulations.

"At first we thought, 'OK, everything will blow over because it's so absolutely absurd,' " she said. "But then we decided we have to speak about this because we realize what the impact might be."

Mr. Kelly said he, too, realizes what the impact might be. And that's exactly what he's after.

"I can't shut (any of the groups) down. Only a court of law can do that, and that can take years," he said in an interview yesterday. "The only thing I can do is inform the public. The public has a right to know."

Mr. Kelly said he is making good on a promise he made in July to begin cracking down on questionable charities and those who have not fully complied with state reporting laws. He acknowledged that PACA's infraction -- filing incomplete financial data -- is not as serious as some of the others named on the list.

However, he added, all the groups listed in Monday's release have failed to comply with state disclosure laws, and he feels it is time to take action.

"These groups were not singled out unfairly," he said. "They have not been responsive to our requests. Some of these organizations are collecting a lot of money -- one raised $6 million -- and we have no idea what they are doing with it."

PACA, which was founded by Ms. Goldfaden in 1984, raises about $500,000 annually. In 1990, $470,000 of that came from private donations, according to state records.

The group has one part-time and three full-time employees.

Organizations raising more than $25,000 are required to file financial statements with the secretary's office, said Alicia Moran, spokeswoman for the Charitable Organizations Division.

State law requires the reports to be submitted six months after the end of each group's fiscal year. PACA, for example, is required to file by July 1 each year.

"They have had months to do this," said Mr. Kelly. "And we err on the side of being very liberal with them. But in this case, (PACA) has been habitually late for years."

The organization never filed its financial data for 1990 until July, 1992, when the 1991 information should have been turned in, he said.

Ms. Goldfaden said PACA's accountants now are working on their financial statements, which she hopes to have completed by the end of the week. They were not completed sooner, she said, because the firm works for free, saving the organization almost $5,000.

"They do this work for us for free. We can't tell them when they have to do it," she said.

Ms. Goldfaden said state officials never made her aware that PACA would "preliminarily" lose its state registration while awaiting its hearing to explain the need for an extension, despite numerous discussions.

And she complained that lumping PACA with the other charities was overkill.

"They said there are many groups in the same boat. In fact, they said there are many groups in much worse shape than we are," she said. "Why did we get put on the list?"

She hopes now, she said, that the state will reinstate the registration and notify the public as soon as she turns in the rest of the information.

"I don't want good people to be hurt," she said, referring to volunteers and contributors who support her activities.

Ironically, Mr. Kelly told PACA in a letter dated July 31 that it had "met the requirements for participation in the 1992 Unity Charity Campaign," a fund drive among present and former state employees. That campaign started Oct. 5, the same day the state released its charitable organizations hit list.

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