Dubious Charity Fund-Raising

October 18, 1992

Marylanders, beware: The Cancer Fund of America is back The secretary of state tried to keep this group out of Maryland, accusing it of using deceptive and misleading solicitations. But the courts ruled otherwise, and so the group's "Baltimore Area Door-to-Door Campaign" is in full swing -- though this fund-raiser isn't door-to-door, the money ends up in Tennessee instead of Baltimore, and little money actually is devoted to cancer patients.

This kind of questionable solicitation underscores the need for stronger regulations governing the operation of non-profit charitable solicitations and fund-raising in this state. Maryland's law is so weak that all kinds of dubious practices are possible. Some charities wind up spending nearly all the money raised on expenses. Charity executives and their spouses often get huge salaries and fees from the organization. Determining which charities are legitimate is becoming increasingly difficult.

Nearly 1,700 charities solicit in Maryland. Yet because of a 1984 Supreme Court decision, Maryland no longer can limit a charity's overhead and fund-raising costs. Nor can it forbid "sound-alike" groups from flourishing at the expense of established charities with hard-earned reputations for honesty and good deeds.

We have to get tough with the charlatans in the charity industry. Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. has proposed a list of changes in state law he'd like to see implemented to give his office some power to oversee and help regulate non-profit groups that raise money in Maryland. True, Mr. Kelly plans to run for governor in 1994, but this isn't merely a useful campaign issue. Too many fund-raising groups are turning to shady practices, conning money out of Marylanders and misleading them into believing all the money will be spent on charitable causes.

The legislature has turned a deaf ear to Mr. Kelly's pleas before. Lawmakers ought to heed his warning this time.

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