Valley cancer charity gives little, keeps lots

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

MESA, Ariz. -- A Valley charity is in the national spotlight  -- but not for its good works.

The Breast Cancer Society in Mesa claims it helps people dying of cancer, but recently uncovered IRS records show that's not where most of the money is going.

A CNN investigation ran into lots of slammed doors and skirted questions when it tried to get answers for a report that aired a couple of weeks ago. The story that eventually aired on Anderson Cooper's AC360 was highly critical of the Mesa charity and its sister charities in other states, claiming they are little more than fronts set up to make money for the highly paid charity executives.

In response to that story, The Breast Cancer Society held a meeting at its headquarters that it promised would set the record straight. The meeting notice said the charity's CEO would "clear up all questions or doubt anyone may have in regards to our organization."

The meeting notice also promised the organization would throw open its financial books for scrutiny.

However, when 3TV cameras showed up to the meeting they were met with more skirted questions and slammed doors.

"Are you guys here for The Breast Cancer Society [meeting]?" 3TV asked a couple walking toward the charity's locked doors on Tuesday evening.

"No," replied one of the two people, who then walked right into the meeting. The organization's door opened briefly and locked behind them.

None of the people showing up for the supposed "Open Forum Dinner" at The Breast Cancer Society would share with 3TV exactly who they were or what the charity really does behind its locked doors.

"Is it true only 2 percent of the revenue goes toward sick people?" 3TV asked another gentleman, who admitted he worked for the charity.

"Yeah, well, I think this company does great work," replied the man, who then brushed past cameras and ignored all other questions as he was let through the charity's secured doors.
Criticism of the Mesa charity and its sister charities in other states (all run by the same family) started with a year-long investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Tampa Bay Times. About two weeks ago the story was picked up by CNN's Drew Griffin and ran on AC360.

"What they're doing is just horrific," commented Cooper after the story ran.

The spark for Anderson's ire came from 2011 IRS tax records recently acquired by CNN.

Records show The Breast Cancer Society took in $13 million in donations for 2011, but gave away only 2.4 percent of that money directly to dying cancer patients.

Meanwhile, the charity's CEO, James Reynolds Jr., raked in a salary of $261,000.

"What about the accusations that only 2 percent of the proceeds go to sick people?" 3TV asked another meeting attendee, who was hurriedly trying to reach the front door.

"Not accurate," said the woman, who wouldn't explain her affiliation with the organization.

"OK, so how much do you [give]?"

"Ninety-eight percent," replied the woman.

"Do you have proof?"

There was no answer as the door slammed and the lock clicked yet again.

Based on other charities, 98 percent would be an almost impossibly high giving rate.

An acceptable donation margin for respectable charities is considered to be around 60 percent. Legitimate charities also prominently publish their gifting margins.

For comparison, Make-A-Wish is on the high end of donation efficiency. In fiscal year 2012, Make-A-Wish used 79 percent of funds donated directly for wish-granting activities, according to communications manager Josh deBerge.

The Office of the Arizona Attorney General was contacted for this story but couldn't comment on whether there is an open investigation on The Breast Cancer Society.

CNN reported that the Iowa attorney general has gone after telemarketing firms soliciting donations under false pretenses for sister charities of The Breast Cancer Society.