Trump Mich. charity linked to telemarketer AG targeted

Candice Williams, and Nicquel Terry

One of 40 veteran’s groups that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump announced Tuesday as recipients of $5.6 million raised in January is linked to a telemarketing firm that has come under the scrutiny of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.

West Bloomfield-based Foundation for American Veterans was among the charities Trump released Tuesday after media inquiries. The donation: $75,000. A professional fundraiser for the charity, Southfield-based Associated Community Services, has paid a settlement following a cease-and-desist order from the attorney general.

In 2013, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette reached a $45,000 settlement with ACS, following complaints that the firm wrongly used the Attorney General Office’s name to convince senior citizens to provide their credit card information.

Attempts to reach the ACS at its Southfield office Tuesday were unsuccessful.

A representative with Schuette’s office urged Michiganians to “do their homework” before making charitable donations.

“The Attorney General encourages Michigan residents to give wisely and do their homework when it comes to making charitable donations,” spokeswoman Andrea Bitley said. “The more information a donor has about a charity they are considering making a donation to, the better.”

Bitely also suggested donors give directly to their charity of choice, instead of donating through a third-party fundraiser.

“And on our website, we have a way to check the status of a charity and whether or not they are registered,” she said.

As recently as last week, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit against the telemarketer, accusing it of using deceptive statements and sending false pledge reminders to convince individuals, mostly senior citizens, to donate.

Since 2010, foundation for American Veterans paid ACS and its affiliates more than $27 million for its fundraising services, according to Swanson’s office. ACS and its affiliates take about 85 percent of cash donations while the foundation spends about 10 percent to help veterans, Swanson’s office said.

CharityWatch, a major charity watchdog, says charities shouldn’t spend more than 35 cents of every dollar they raise on administrative purposes.

Robert McDonald, program director for Foundation for American Veterans, the group that received $75,000 from Trump, confirmed that ACS raised money for his nonprofit veterans group.

“They do our fundraising because we aren’t able to do it through normal fundraising,” McDonald said.

He declined to discuss details about the relationship between the organization and ACS, including what percentage of fundraising goes to the Foundation for American Veterans.

“I see where this is going,” McDonald said, before hanging up the phone on a reporter.

According to its website, the Foundation for American Veterans provides benefits for veterans through homeless programs, crisis intervention and educational services as well as donating to veterans hospitals.

The organization says on its website that it has funded a pulse oximeter at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital, helped the Detroit VA Hospital arrange free cable pay-per-view service for patients, and paid for supplies for the patio/nature trail fund at the Saginaw VA Hospital.

Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities based on financial documents, said the Foundation for American Veterans generates $8 million in annual revenue. However, Charity Navigator did not give the organization a rating, saying on its website that the foundation does not meet the required tax status of being a 501(c) (3) public charity.

Of the 40 groups Trump donated to, 13 received a four-star rating and three received a three-star rating.

Trump raised millions during a splashy telethon-style fundraiser he held in Iowa in January in place of a Fox debate he was boycotting.

The Associated Press and staff writer Holly Fournier contributed to this report.

Recommendations for donors

■ Be cautious when someone calls and asks for a donation. Ask if the caller works directly for the charity or is a professional fundraiser hired for a particular campaign.

■ Ask how much of the donation actually goes to the charity. Beware of vague or unresponsive answers to specific questions about the charity and how money is used.

■ Don’t feel pressured to make an immediate donation. Avoid anyone that tries to make you feel guilty or uncomfortable with a donation. Go with your gut. Ask for a call back number and do your own research.

■ Remember that you can always hang up, research your own charities, and give directly to the charity. This way your charity will get 100 percent of your donation.

Source: Office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette