A small Troy charity has once again won the top spot on an attorney general’s list of the nation’s worst charities — a feat accomplished by collecting millions and giving away thousands over three years.
“You have to work pretty hard — or maybe not work hard — to make the top of the list twice,” said Elizabeth Grant, an Oregon assistant attorney general in the charity section. In 2010, the Law Enforcement Education Program landed on Missouri’s top 10 list of bad charities. Michigan’s attorney general does not rank or rate charities.
LEEP came to my attention last year, when it first reached the top of Oregon’s list. That triumph may have spurred the group — an affiliate of the Police Officers Labor Council union — to maintain its record of nonperformance. The 2013 Oregon report cited LEEP for spending only 3.1 percent of its $2 million in revenue on programs or services.
Calls to the charity were not returned on Monday or Tuesday, although an answering service promised to relay messages. I was unable to reach executive director Richard Weiler — who is also director of the Police Officers Labor Council, a public safety union — by phone or email. Weiler is a former Detroit police officer and longtime labor official.
A Weiler statement on the LeepUSA website describes the charity’s effort to provide schools with “Kids, Don’t Go With Strangers” materials, which include coloring books and a CD, for classroom use free of charge.
Karen Welch, the charity’s tax preparer at Walsh & Co. in Troy, said Tuesday she couldn’t give me Weiler’s home phone number and hung up after being asked for help reaching him.
The police charity’s most recent tax return describes its fundraising golf outing as a bust, losing $5,602 after renting facilities, handing out prizes and paying other expenses. It also spent $21,000 publishing Police Officer Journal, “the official publication of the Law Enforcement Education Program.” The charity gives scholarships to students planning law enforcement careers, too — $2,000 worth in 2011. But the charity’s website says it awarded 21 scholarships in 2012, indicating a potential trend of charitable giving.
Charitable-giving rating sites Charity Navigator and GuideStar give LEEP no stars. The Better Business Bureau does not accredit LEEP, because it does not provide the rating organization with information.
Michigan’s attorney general doesn’t rate or rank charities, but the office does take complaints. Spokeswoman Joy Yearout says that LEEP hasn’t had any complaints in Michigan. Being ranked as the nation’s worst charity doing business in Oregon does not register as a “complaint” in Lansing and there’s no law against operating as an inefficient charity.
But LEEP’s low giving rate is an open secret among police organizations and charities in Michigan.
Ed Jacques, spokesman for the Police Officers Association of Michigan, urges people to be wary of organizations that use costly professional fundraisers and have low giving rates. “Unscrupulous organizations give all police organizations a black eye and hurt when you’re trying to raise money for something important,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of nonprofits to solicit, without regard to their performance. That ruling held the door open for poor-performing charities like LEEP.
LEEP’s 3 percent giving rate is head-turning: The Better Business Bureau accredits charities that spend 65 percent of what they raise on their core mission of helping others. Givers can look up charities on websites like Charity Navigator, on the BBB website, or by contacting the state attorney general for information.
The state of Oregon is trying to improve the performance of low-performing charities like LEEP, and recently passed a law that denies state tax deductions to charities that spent at least 30 percent of revenue on programs and services. .
It can’t hurt to prod charities to win attention for helping people, rather than for landing at the top of a worst charity list.