(DES MOINES, Iowa) Attorney General Tom Miller is asking a Polk County District Judge to find a Wisconsin-based fundraiser in violation of consumer protection laws and a previous injunction and to order the company to halt deceptive fundraising practices in Iowa.
In a motion filed Thursday, Miller asked Polk County District Judge Don C. Nickerson to find Community Support, Inc. (CSI), a Nevada corporation headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in violation of a May 20, 2009 consent judgment and the Consumer Fraud Act. In that consent judgment, CSI was ordered to refrain from various forms of deceptive conduct in connection with its fundraising, and to adopt certain practices in order to ensure future compliance with the law. A lawsuit was filed on the same date.
Miller’s motion alleges that his office has since learned that CSI has continued to mislead Iowans as to the source, nature and frequency of charitable solicitation calls; how much of a donation would go to the charitable cause; and the scope of the charity work performed. The motion further alleges that one caller even falsely suggested that the Attorney General had endorsed, or had approved of, its fundraising efforts. “We allege that this fundraising company has made untrue statements to Iowans,” Miller said, “all to help it collect more money, most of which the paid fundraiser keeps for itself.”
Since the consent judgment took effect, Miller’s office has obtained recordings of eight solicitation calls that CSI has made to Iowans, on behalf of American Foundation for Disabled Children, Children’s Cancer and Leukemia Relief Fund, National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, Reserve Police Officers Association, and Woman2Woman Breast Cancer Foundation. According to the Attorney General’s motion, the recordings reveal efforts to confuse and deceive Iowans:
- Solicitations attempt to obscure the source, nature and frequency of the calls. In various calls, the telemarketer said that he or she was “with” or “from” the charitable organization itself, as opposed to a professional fundraising firm. Several solicitors indicated that their fundraising is incidental, periodic or an annual activity, rather than a full-time, year-round business which calls donors every five months.
- Solicitations attempt to obfuscate how much of a donation would go to the charitable cause. Solicitors typically avoided making a forthright response, claiming, for example that “we do not have the information yet.” In one call a solicitor responded that the consumer’s check would be mailed directly to the charity, falsely insinuating that the charity would get the full amount of the donation.
- Solicitations attempt to mislead on the scope of the charity work performed. In one call, the solicitor exaggerated the impact of the purported charitable activity by claiming that the charity “helps out any women in need.” In another call, the solicitor falsely claimed that the charity “provides care packages for all our hospitalized veterans.”
In asking the court to find CSI in violation of the consent judgment and Consumer Fraud Act, Miller has requested a judgment of $40,000 for each violation of the Consumer Fraud Act; $10,000 for each violation of the consent judgment; an injunction prohibiting CSI from engaging in further solicitation of donations in Iowa until it can demonstrate the ability to comply with the Consumer Fraud Act and previous judgments; and attorneys fees and court costs.
“When companies renege on agreeing to follow Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act and an additional court order, we must hold them accountable,” Miller said. “And that’s what we’re doing here. This sends a message to Iowans who give to charities that we’ll protect them.”
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View the original news release regarding the Community Support Inc. consent judgment.