October 15, 2010; Source: NBC4i.com | At first blush, this article looks like someone spotted a for-profit passing itself off as a nonprofit to raise charitable donations, but it’s not. The actual story is much more common and also disturbing.

The Autism Society of Ohio filed a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General—and with the local NBC television affiliate in Columbus—against the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, which is apparently based in Indiana. The ASO alleges that the ASDF hired a for-profit firm to do telephone and direct mail fundraising in 12 states including Ohio (apparently ASDF is doing fundraising in all 50 states now). The NBC station discovered that for the ASDF’s fundraising in Oregon, for example, the for-profit firm—Infocision Management Corporation—retained $234 dollars out of every $235 raised as donations, giving the ASDF a measly $1.

According to the ASO, it’s not clear how even that $1 benefits anyone in Ohio. The Ohio AG investigated and dismissed the complaint as “closed without action by our office.” There are two disturbing parts of this story: The first are the questions raised by ASDF’s bookkeeping. And the second is that it seems the AG is giving for-profit marketers who take the lion’s share of fundraising proceeds a free pass.

ASDF’s first (and so far only publicly accessible) 990 filing, shows an operating loss of $161,501 for calendar year 2008 and net assets of negative $165,854. The 990 says ASDF provides education to the public about autism, information to families of people suffering from autism, and “financial assistance to the families and relevant community service organizations that help people suffering from autism.” Toward that program purpose the organization cites spending $271,348 of its total $531,583 in expenses. But the 990 references only $1,096 in grants paid by the ASDF compared to $387,523 in fees paid to consultants and independent contractors ($279,506 identified as having gone to Infocision) and $127,181 in postage, publications, printing, and shipping. Then numbers don’t add up.

An incredibly detailed investigation of the ASDF and its executive director, Michael Slutsky, posted on the neurodiversity blog tells the rest of the story that NBC4i missed. The blogger, Kathleen Seidel, uncovered that ASDF’s address was a rented mailbox at a UPS store in a strip mall, that calls to the ASDF are answered by Infocision, that Slutsky is a “principal of Angel Lite fundraising” that apparently sells scented jar candles to schools and churches for fundraising campaigns, that the four incorporators apparently include Slutsky’s landlady, that one of the incorporators and named board members who is apparently a psychologist calls himself only a technical advisor and childhood friend of Slutsky’s (and took down references to his involvement in ASDF in 2009), that neither the Indiana Resource Center for Autism nor Indiana members of the Autism Society of America knew who Slutsky or ASDF were, and that Slutsky has no family connection to or personal expertise in autism.

No offense, NBC4i, we could smell this one from a mile (or several states) away, and the blogger, Kathleen Seidel, taught you a year ago the basics of solid investigative journalism.

The other troubling issue to us is the fact that the Ohio AG—and the IRS and the AGs of the other states—have given ASDF and its rapacious for-profit fundraising firm a pass. We’ve been critics of the for-profit telemarketers who get defended by national nonprofit leadership organizations under the guise of freedom of speech and public education. What a bunch of bunkum! Maybe ASDF as the blend of dubious charity and avaricious for-profit charitable fundraiser ought to spark our sector into a deep and honest revisit of for-profit telemarketers. How many more of these scandals does the nonprofit sector need, particularly as some of its leaders pontificate about the educational benefits of telemarketing?—Rick Cohen