January 29, 2020; Center for Public Integrity

The findings of a recent investigation into an enterprise called the Law Enforcement Officers Relief Fund found that the group, along with the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) that sponsors it, has been spending three-quarters of its operations budget on fundraising over a period of seven years. The IUPA itself has a D- rating from the Better Business Bureau which also provides reviews of its own fundraising tactics, complaining that the callers front with appeals for individual officers while really attempting to raise money for lobbying.

Most of the money raised by the Relief Fund, specifically, is spent on professional telemarketers who charge high rates to aggressively solicit money on behalf of “fallen officers.” One donor said her elderly mother was approached by the organization to pay a $20 pledge they claimed was made by her dead father who passed away in the mid-’80s. Another former federal law enforcement officer said the solicitor tried to “guilt trip” him into a donation “by suggesting I don’t support law enforcement officers in our country.”

None of this has elicited scrutiny by charity regulators in Florida, which may be why it seems like such a disproportionate number of such cases emanate from the Sunshine State despite vows to “crack down” dating back to 2014. We have covered far too many of these stories over the years, so many of you will recognize the profile, which in this case involves Samuel Cabral and Hugh Cameron, two men (one making $209,000 and one making $142,000 from the Relief Fund) overseeing two organizations out of a single penthouse suite in Florida. Both men appear to make similar figures at the IUPA. The annual budget of the Relief Fund is listed at $1,793,000 and the amount paid out in grants was around $230,000, which amounts to far less than its two leaders are paid. The two are among only four men listed on their 2019 Form 990 in the area listing directors, officers, and trustees. The Center for Public Integrity, which covered this story, also did an exposé on another similar operation in 2017 in their investigation of Circle of Friends for American Veterans, which ran out of one man’s apartment in Falls Church, Virginia and also includes a PAC.

This is a peculiar brand of charity specializing in exploiting the public’s concern for those they depend upon in a crisis. Another familiar aspect of the case is its connection to political candidates. (Readers may recall the bizarre case of Bobby Thompson, among a number of others.) Cameron and Cabral took a meeting with none other than Donald Trump in November, where they endorsed him.

Florida requires nonprofits to register and submit routine financial statements detailing their expenses, says Florida lawyer Matt Weidner, but that appears to be where the monitoring ends.

“What is the point of spending any of this money (collecting and processing nonprofits’ forms) if the state isn’t going to undertake any meaningful review—much less actual regulation—of those entities that are providing all this information,” he asks.—Ruth McCambridge