Has your mailbox become a repository for money solicitations from the right to lifers, the gun lobby or the disabled veterans?
If the answer is yes, there is a good chance your name has found its way onto the rolls of magnetic tape that are stashed in a nondescript building in Falls Church, Va. It's the headquarters of the Viguerie Co., the highly successful commercial venture of conservative idealogue Richard A. Viguerie, the undisputed king of direct mail.
If your name is on one of Viguerie Co.'s magnetic tapes, then you might support conservative causes or maybe you have expressed an interest in some aspect of the right.
Whatever the reason, your name and more than a million others are offered for sale to conservative organizations and politicians. The names are classified according to interests and past records of contributions. Clients are charged by the name, so each time the printer stamps your name and address on a solicitation notice, it is money in Viguerie Co.'s pockets.
While there has been ample publicity about Viguerie Co.'s efforts on behalf of conservative politicians such as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Rep. Phillip Crane (R-Ill.), including angry complaints from the congressmen and their aides about Viguerie Co.'s share of the money raised, there is scant information about the Viguerie Co.'s less public clients.
For example, the National Rifle Association is an organization that Viguerie Co. has worked for, and there is no mention of it on the fund-raising solicitations for the NRA.
Whether the name of the fund raiser must be disclosed is up to the state authorities where the solicitation takes place. But states are generally lax in regulating professional fund raisers and federal oversight is limited to fund raising by candidates for national office.
Viguerie Co. can operate the business in a privatemanner--and it works hard to keep it that way.
Recently, Viguerie Co. attorneys went to court to challenge attempts by New York authorities to learn more about the company's fund-raising efforts in this state. New York, which is relatively strict on fund raisers, has been feuding with Viguerie Co. for years. This most recent clash, according to the Charities Registration Section of New York's Department of State, followed discovery by it that Viguerie Co. had been been raising money in the state without registering.
Both Viguerie Co. and its attorneys declined to discuss the case for this article. But court papers filed in connection with the case offer some information about the normally secretive Viguerie Co.
New York law says that a fund raiser is required to disclose the name of "any charitable or religious or any other person" it represents. In 1980, Viguerie Co. did not renew its registration with the state, although it continued to raise money in the state, according to authorities.
When the Viguerie Co. later tried to register, the state refused to renew the firm's registration on the basis that the fund raiser had never disclosed the names of all his clients. In November, Viguerie Co.'s attorneys filed a petition in the N.Y. state supreme court to force the state to allow the company to register.
When authorities in Washington state brought pressure on Viguerie Co. to disclose under that state's solicitation laws--a fund raiser must register, post a bond and disclose whether he pockets more than 20 percent of the money raised--Viguerie Co. apparently pulled out of Washington.
According to Doris Loffler, chief auditor of the state's department of licensing, Viguerie Co.'s attorney wrote a letter saying the company "is neither a professional fund raiser nor a professional solicitor." Instead, said the lawyer, the Viguerie Co. is a consultant "making available various mailing lists" to clients.
Loffler disagrees, and says that Viguerie Co. must comply with the law. Presumably the Viguerie Co. decided to abandon Washington since the firm has not registered or posted a bond or contested the state's view.
But in New York state, whose citizens in 1980 contributed a hefty $4 billion to registered charitable organizations, the Viguerie Co. has chosen to fight the state instead. It has gone to court demanding that it be allowed to register, but that it need not comply with the rest of the law.
Claiming Viguerie Co.'s First Amendment rights have been violated, its lawyers argued in the court petition that the state was limited by statute to requiring it to disclose only the names of clients that are charitable or religious organizations. The petition questioned "whether the secretary of state can require as a precondition to registration as a professional fund raiser. . . the disclosure of the identities of a fund raiser's clients which are neither 'charitable' nor 'religious' in nature."
The state attorney general's office, in an answer filed last month with the court, accused the Viguerie Co. of acting as if "it can unilaterally determine when, if and in what manner, it shall comply with the disclosure requirements."
Viguerie Co.'s New York attorney, Stuart A. Jackson, told the court, "I have been informed by Viguerie Co.'s Washington counsel that some of his clients strongly desire that their relationship with Viguerie Co. not be known."
The court has not ruled on the Viguerie Co. petition.
New York authorities say that, without disclosure, contributors have no way of knowing how much of the money they give will go to charity and how much to fund raisers. Some states and municipalities have mandated the percentage a fund raiser is allowed to keep, others have set informal guidelines.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that solicitation of charitable funds is "protected speech." A community could not deny a solicitation license merely because the fund raiser was not able to say that a set percent would go to charity, the court said.
Viguerie Co. came to the attention of New York authorities in 1973 and 1975 when they discovered that most of the money it was raising for two charities went to pay its name-rental fees.
Authorities said they discovered that an antipornography group called Citizens for Decent Literature was raising money not primarily to fight smut but to pay Viguerie Co.'s bill from the year before. Viguerie Co.'s charges had come to 93 percent of the funds raised, state authorities said. In 1973, a state court voided Citizen's contract with Viguerie Co.
In another case, New York state authorities said they learned that of the $1.5 million raised by Viguerie Co. in 1975 for the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation, an organization with the stated purpose of feeding hungry children, the firm got $900,000, the children $100,000 and the rest went to expenses.
During this period, attorneys for Viguerie Co. fought New York state disclosure laws, arguing that their client was in the advertising business, not fund raising. But in 1978, Viguerie Co. consented to a court settlement under which it agreed to register the names of its clients with the New York Department of State and to keep its fees to 35 percent of funds raised in this state.
The current dust-up between Viguerie Co. and New York came about when charities registered in the state disclosed that Viguerie Co. was their fund raiser. But Viguerie Co. had not disclosed that information. The state, according to its records, discovered that Viguerie Co. had not disclosed the names of clients since 1979, when it said it represented three: Help Hospitalized Veterans, Bibles for the World and the Second Amendment Foundation.
According to Charities Registration records, in 1980, two years after the court settlement, HHV paid Viguerie Co. 40.6 percent of the money raised for HHV, and the Second Amendment Foundation paid it 60.3 percent. Viguerie Co.'s attorney would not discuss the matter.
In March 1981, the state went on a fishing expedition. The attorney general's office sent Viguerie Co.'s attorneys a list of 45 organizations that it said were "reportedly under contract" to the firm.
Viguerie Co.'s Washington counsel, Richard F. Levin of Grossberg, Yochelson, Fox & Beda, said in a March 30 letter that three organizations on the list submitted by the New York attorney general's office were indeed clients--Leadership Foundation Inc., Christian Service Corps Inc. and American Indian Heritage Foundation Inc. The remaining 42 names, he said, either "had not contracted" with Viguerie Co. or "are not required to be designated . . . due to the particular entity's noncharitable status."
Then, in an April 13, letter, Levin added the following "noncharitable" organizations that he said were clients "in 1979 or 1980 or both years"--Americans Against Union Control of Government, Prospect House, Conservative Caucus, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, National Conservative Political Action Committee, Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, Gun Owners of America, National Health Federation and the National Rifle Association.
New York authorities claim that Viguerie Co. also raises money here for the American Life Lobby, Gates Community Chapel and Don Stewart Evangelistic Association. Viguerie Co. has said nothing regarding these groups.
Not long after Levin submitted the list to New York state, Viguerie Co. instructed its New York attorneys to file the court petition seeking to block any further snooping by authorities.