Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises area residents to be cautious of phone calls or mailers soliciting donations to the National Police Support Fund, an organization that describes itself as a grassroots movement of Americans united to support their political action activities.
A BBB investigation has been unable to determine who is behind the National Police Support Fund or details on how the group intends to spend its donations. National Police Support Fund representatives have been phoning potential donors in the St. Louis area over the past several weeks, including the wife of a retired police officer who said she became suspicious of the solicitation after making an initial pledge of $15.
The woman, from Affton, said she backed away from her pledge after learning that the organization’s Virginia address was a postal box. She said she became even more skeptical after reading a mailer from the nonprofit, noting that contributions were not tax deductible.
“I wanted to help,” she said. “But I have no idea what is going on (with the organization).”
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said that any nonprofit that solicits public contributions “should earn people’s trust, and one way to do so is by being transparent.”
“A nonprofit’s mission may seem laudable, but unless it makes itself accountable to its donors, it rarely will be successful.”
In its mailers and on its website, the National Police Support Fund describes itself as a nonprofit in Alexandria, Va.
But a report filed with the Internal Revenue Service reports the organization’s mailing address as a virtual office in Madison, Wis.
In an email response to BBB, a man who identified himself as a communications consultant with National Police Support Fund described the organization as a political action committee and not a charity. The consultant, Colton C. Strawser, who described himself as chief strategy officer of Strawser Strategies, identified the organization’s president as Simon Lewis. Strawser declined to release any additional information on Lewis or its board members.
Its corporate registration with the state of Virginia was filed on Sept. 12.
The organization’s website recently featured a red, white and blue shield with three stars and photographs of a flashing police emergency light, the uniform of an officer with the New Jersey State Police bomb squad and two police officers with the New York City Police Department. A spokesperson with the New Jersey State Police said the department has no relationship with the organization and did not authorize use of the photo of its uniform. A spokesman for the New York City Police Department said in an emailed statement: “The NYPD does not solicit contributions. We have no affiliation with this organization. This appears to be a stock photo.”
Days after BBB’s inquiry, the New Jersey State Police photo had been removed from the site.
The website says the organization’s goals include keeping police officers safe, educating the public and politicians on issues affecting the law enforcement community and exposing politicians “who exploit police for political purposes.”
The website lists what it calls “active chapters” in 18 states, including “Missoura.” BBB could find no information on any of the chapters.
In the IRS report, filed July 26, National Police Support Fund reported about $61,000 in contributions and nearly $47,000 in expenses for the first six months of this year. The expenses – all from June of this year – involved payment for professional fundraising services. One company, Grassroots Fund Group LLC of Middletown, N. J., received about $15.000; a second company, Residential Programs Inc. of Eatontown, N.J., received about $31,000.
Greg Hertling of Ocean, N. J. is CEO and owner of Residential Programs; Lee Ostrowsky is listed as president of the company.
Both Hertling and Ostrowsky are former employees with Civic Development Group, which was shut down in 2010 after a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the firm’s charity solicitation practices.
A 2010 news release by the FTC reported that the New Jersey-based operators of Civic Development had agreed to pay $18.8 million and leave the charitable donation business as part of a federal court settlement. The FTC had alleged the company violated an FTC order by misleading consumers into believing they were donating directly to legitimate charities serving police, firefighters and veterans, when in fact only a small portion of the donations actually went to the charities.
At the time of the settlement, the civil penalty was the largest ever in an FTC consumer protection case.
BBB offers the following advice to consumers solicited for contributions to nonprofit groups:
St. Louis area media contacts: Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, (314) 584-6743 or (314) 681-4719 (cell), email@example.com
Shellie Kreter, PR & Communications Manager, (314) 584-6723 or (314) 348-5451 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Don O’Brien, Investigator, (314) 584-6785, email@example.com
Columbia media contact: Sean Spence, Columbia Regional Director, (573) 886-8965, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cape Girardeau media contact: Joey Keys, Cape Girardeau Regional Director, (573) 803-3191, email@example.com
Quincy media contact: Mara Clingingsmith, BBB Quincy Regional Director, (217) 209-3972 or (217) 242-6272 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Springfield media contact: Stephanie Garland, BBB Springfield Regional Director, (417) 380-5074, email@example.com
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