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A sad excuse fora veterans charity
A Times Editorial
Published January 22, 2008
The disgusting details are enough to make you shake your head in angry disbelief. One of the larger veteran charities in the nation appears to be doing far less for the hospitalized veterans it claims to serve than for the charity's founder and his wife. Profiting from the war in Iraq this way is despicable.
The congressional hearings that have uncovered this sleazy arrangement should only be the first step. It might be time for Congress to mandate that nonprofit organizations and charities inform potential donors of how their money is being spent.
Roger Chapin has founded more than 20 nonprofit organizations in the last 30 years, including Help Hospitalized Veterans, which primarily donates "craft kits" to hospitalized and home-bound veterans. But unlike most reputable charities, Help Hospitalized Veterans spends most of the money coming in on something other than war veterans.
From 2004 to 2006, veterans have received only 25 percent of the $168 million raised by the charities Chapin was charged with running, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. The lion's share of the money went to fundraising and overhead, while $1.5 million went to Chapin and his wife in compensation and another $340,000 went to reimburse them for expenses such as restaurant meals and hotels. According to the Washington Post, Chapin's wife, Elizabeth, received $113,623 in salary and benefits over the last fiscal year as "newsletter editor."
There were other questionable big ticket expenditures as well, including the purchase of a condo, $100,000 to Gen. Tommy Franks whose name was used in fundraising letters, a loan of $135,000 to the Help Hospitalized Veterans' executive director Mike Lynch with his divorce settlement, and $17,000 for a country club membership.
If only Chapin's actions were anomalous, they could be chalked up to one shyster. But the committee has found that other charities that trade on concern for veterans, such as American Veterans Coalition, American Veterans Relief Foundation and Disabled Veterans Association, also spend more than 75 percent of the donations they receive on something other than helping vets, largely on fundraising.
The generally accepted standard is that organizations should spend no more than one third of their revenues on fundraising expenses, and groups should be spending at least 60 percent of their revenues on their bona-fide charitable programs.
When lawmakers at the hearing suggested that Chapin inform those he solicits that only a paltry amount ends up helping veterans, Chapin exclaimed, "If we'd disclose, we'd all be out of business -- no one would donate!"
Certainly Chapin and his kind would be out of business. And they should be, the sooner the better.