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Study Faults Charities for Veterans

"We need to make sure that the generous contributions of Americans to veterans will help veterans," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said. (By Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)

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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Americans gave millions of dollars in the past year to veterans charities designed to help troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, but several of the groups spent relatively little money on the wounded, according to a leading watchdog organization and federal tax filings.

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Eight veterans charities, including some of the nation's largest, gave less than a third of the money raised to the causes they champion, far below the recommended standard, the American Institute of Philanthropy says in a report. One group passed along 1 cent for every dollar raised, the report says. Another paid its founder and his wife a combined $540,000 in compensation and benefits last year, a Washington Post analysis of tax filings showed.

There are no laws regulating the amount of money charities spend on overhead, fundraising or giving. But the institute's report suggests that 20 of the 29 military charities studied were managing their resources poorly, paying high overhead costs and direct-mail fundraising fees and, in some cases, providing their leaders with six-figure salaries.

The 12 charities rated as failing by the institute -- including the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, the AMVETS National Service Foundation and the Freedom Alliance -- collected at least $266 million in the past fiscal year.

"They know how to work the system, and they seem pretty good at not going over the line, although it is pretty outrageous that so little money is actually winding up benefiting charities," said Daniel Borochoff, president and founder of the Chicago-based institute.

The charities' practices have sparked outrage among some members of Congress.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was scheduled to hold its first hearing on veterans charities this morning.

"People want to help the veterans," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the oversight committee. "They don't want to enrich organizations that are cynically exploiting veterans for their own personal gain.

"We need to make sure that the generous contributions of Americans to veterans will help veterans and not line the pockets of fundraisers and these organizations."

Richard H. Esau Jr., executive director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, based in Annandale, said the cost of fundraising limits how much his group can spend on charitable causes. "Do you have any idea how much money it costs to advertise? It's unbelievable the amount of money it takes to advertise in the print and electronic media," he said. "I'm very proud of what we do, and we certainly do look after everybody. F or no F, the point is we do the right thing by veterans."

Borochoff said many veterans charities are "woefully inefficient," spending large sums on costly direct-mail advertising.

"They oversolicit. They love to send out a lot of trinkets and stickers and greeting cards and flags and things that waste a lot of money that they get little return on," said Borochoff, who plans to testify before Congress today.


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