Charlie Mitchell: Predators rely on generosity of Mississippians

December 10, 2013 9:50:11 AM



OXFORD -- Members of America's military services are being shown spontaneous respect these days. 


It hasn't always been that way. 


Today, however, soldiers have told me that if they're in uniform in a mall, in an airport or just walking down the street, people will look at them, smile and whisper, "Thanks." They get handshakes, hugs, salutes. The loudest applause at every college football game is reserved for the "veteran of the week" being introduced to fans in the stands. At holiday parades all around Mississippi, locals who have taken up arms to protect the nation get cheers almost as loud as those for Santa Claus. 


America is sharply divided on whether the two wars launched in the aftermath of the air attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were righteous. Americans today are not at all divided on our admiration of those who volunteered to serve in those wars and in defense of the nation, generally. 


Sadly, this trend has not been lost on the predator class, the scum who scheme to scam us. 


It's one thing to rob a bank, a liquor store or grab a little old lady's purse and run, but it takes a special level of evil to put on a coat and tie, rent a post office box and become a "charity" soliciting donations and knowing all the time that most of the money will be pocketed. 


For many years now, Mississippi secretaries of state have published annual lists of registered charities. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has continued that practice. Unlike the early days when the "charity list" was a thick, paperbound book that might have been available in the nearest library, this year's list is online and searchable. 


Type in the name. Get the report card on that charity. 


There is simply no reason for any Mississippian to be scammed anymore. 


1. If the name of a charity seeking a gift is not in the database, the charity is operating outside of state law and should not be given a penny. 


2. If the name of a charity seeking a gift is in the database, there will be a percentage chart showing how much the charity reported receiving, how much was allocated to works and how much was allocated to overhead. It's far from full disclosure. It's far from perfect, but the Better Business Bureau advises that worthwhile organizations will spend at least 65 percent of revenue on program activities. 


"Veteran" and "military" are hot terms for charities to include in their names. Indeed, at least 100 groups on the list contain the word "veteran." 


"Cancer" is also common. "Children." "Homeless." These words get our attention, but how do we tell which ones are "fake" and which ones are "for real?" 


Take the Maryland-based Veterans Support Foundation for example. Not picking on them, but their last report shows $2.7 million collected, from which $1.2 million was paid out in fundraising expenses and $830,000 went to administration. That left less than a quarter of every donated dollar spent on "program activities," meaning the activities donors had every reason to believe their gifts were sustaining. 


The Center for American Homeless Veterans, Inc., according to its report, collected almost $400,000 and spent less than $100,000 on program activities. 


All charities have expenses; all charities have overhead. But make no mistake -- charity is big business in America and the outliers thrive only because Americans aren't paying enough attention when they respond to solicitations. 


Sometimes people say, "Well, this kind of thing ought to be illegal." The Supreme Court has answered that question many times. The justices have said that in a free nation anybody is free to ask anybody else for money. 


What the court didn't say --but what is implicit -- is that this freedom creates a duty for donors to be smarter. Government is big enough without having to regulate how charities, including churches, spend donations. 


It's a great country and it's a great time of year. It's wonderful to be blessed with heartstrings that can be tugged. It's a horrible thing to see generous people targeted as prey. 


We do, however, have a tool to check these things out. And, by the way, if we focus on helping our families and neighbors, we can know for sure that what we can share will be wisely used.