The caller to the New To Seattle world headquarters was Nathan. At least that’s the name he gave. He solicited money for the Washington State Law Enforcement Association, which he said did all kinds of good things for public safety and the citizens of Washington State. He pushed hard to get me to commit to a $15 pledge. I pushed back by asking questions.
As some of Nathan’s answers were slightly off kilter, highly repetitive or delayed, I quickly realized he was another of those computer-controlled interactive characters who occasionally call asking for money. I think Nathan, or his human supervisor secretly monitoring the call, got on to me, too. He/they soon stopped asking for money and hung up.
Regular visitors to the space know what happened next. I started poking around the Internet, looking for documents to see what I could learn about WSLEA.
I learned a lot. The biggest takeaway was this: By its very own admission, less than 4% of what WSLEA spent in the latest year for which I could find filings related directly to its stated mission of helping law enforcement. The main reason for this: A whopping 83% of the money raised by Nathan and any fellow digital dialers got siphoned off by their paid telemarketing overlords, based in far-away Minnesota.
To put this another way (and rounding), of every dollar given by folks like you, 83 cents went straight to a professional fundraiser, 8 cents went for WSLEA’s management and certain overhead, and 5 cents was put in the bank. That left just 4 cents of your dollar to help fight the criminal element of Washington State.
The 45-year-old WSLEA, which despite its important- and official-sounding name seems to be a private organization not part of any government, lists a post office box in the state capital of Olympia and another office in the Seattle suburb of Newcastle. WSLEA strikes me as a rather iffy police outfit, not unlike the National Police and Trooper Association, which also has called me and which also I have written about. These financial efficiency ratios are simply terrible (although I’ve seen worse).
But WSLEA’s Web site is full of even stranger stuff. For instance, on a page entitled Newsletter, the latest publication is from 2000–14 years ago, when Bill Clinton was still president. The online calendar–which the home page says will help people “stay informed on all member and training events, and see what is coming up”–lists no events that I could see other than board meetings for the past dozen years or the next 14 years.
Is WSLEA admitting to no future? That might not be so surprising, since the tax return explicitly said it had no employees or even volunteers.
Most of the data I’m analyzing here comes from WSLEA’s public federal tax return for 2012, downloadable from here. By now, there ought to be a public tax return out for 2013, but I couldn’t locate it. By email I requested a copy from WSLEA, which, unlike many nonprofit organization, does not routinely post its tax returns or financial results on its Web site.
I haven’t heard back yet from WSLEA. It’s not hard to imagine why not.
Again rounding, for 2012 WSLEA raised $459,000 by calling Washington State residents like me (plus another $1,000 in dues from members). Some $382,000 went to the callers, which filings in the state capital Olympia identified as Community Safety LLC and Safety Service Inc., also known as Safety Services and SSI. Both paid telemarketers share an office suite in Medicine Lake, Minn., and are likely affiliated with each other. Another $35,000 was spent on WSLEA management, certain overhead, and–at $12,000, the largest single itemized category–travel.
WSLEA’s own tax return stated that of a total of $433,000 spent, just $16,000 was in furtherance of its stated mission.That worked out to a charitable commitment ratio of 3.7%, which is considerably less than the 65% charity watchdogs say should be the lowest acceptable minimum. Now, 3.7% rounds to 4%, which is the number, based on results for 2013, listed by the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office.
Of that $16,000, $11,000 was listed as “scholarship and awards,” $3,500 as “donations” and $1,400 as “advertising and promotion.”
You might wonder exactly what WSLEA, to which contributions are not tax-deductible, does besides providing a nice living for fundraisers. There seems to be a gap between words and deeds.
On its tax returns and in its constitution, WSLEA declares “education” as its primary purpose. But it was a little hard to see that even in the miniscule $16,000 of stated expenses for 2012. While $11,000 was listed for “scholarships and awards,” the scholarship page of the Web site says only two $750.00 scholarships for college students were awarded that year.
WSLEA’s latest annual filing for 2013 with Washington State regulators, which I obtained from Olympia, was even squishier when it came to describing the purpose or mission. “The Association provides information about educational opportunities for law enforcement members and supports a variety of community programs,” WSLEA wrote. To me, “information about educational opportunities” amounts to very little.
As always, I invite comment below from anyone mentioned or just interested in these issues. That certainly would include WSLEA. And, of course, Nathan, assuming he and his human master are programmed properly.