Charity Watch 2013: You want to give, but are they honest?

Charity Watch 2013: You want to give, but are they honest?

You get a lot of charities asking you for money this time of year. You want to give, but you also want to know the charities are being honest.

The KATU Problem Solvers investigated and found about 30 charities that are not telling the truth about their pasts.

Charities have to fill out a form to register in the state of Oregon each year. On that form, they are supposed to tell the state if they have ever been in trouble at a certain level and signed a disciplinary agreement in another state at any point in the past.

But not every charity does.

One of the charities that is not revealing its past is National Relief Charities, which is based in Texas but at one time had an office in Beaverton. The charity says on its website that it is dedicated to helping Native Americans live better lives.

But records show National Relief Charities has a number of disciplinary agreements and penalties in other states over the past six years, totaling more than $6,000.

The charity also paid more than $300,000 to the state of Pennsylvania in the 1990s to settle a complaint where the Pennsylvania attorney general's office said one of the charity's programs, American Indian Relief Council, was misleading donors.

KATU called National Relief Charities headquarters in Texas and spoke with President Robbi Dietrich. She said the omission was not deliberate dishonesty, but instead, an honest mistake. Dietrich said the charity contracts with a law firm to fill out registration forms in other states, and the law firm did not answer the question correctly. Dietrich said the charity is fixing the problem now.

Here are some of the other charities not declaring their history to Oregon, according to charity registration records from the Oregon attorney general's office and a database of disciplinary records compiled by The Center for Investigative Reporting and the Tampa Bay Times:

---Christian Action Network, with more than $1,000 in unreported disciplinary actions
---Childhelp, with more than $7,000
---Capitolwatch, with more than $8,000
---The Armed Forces Foundation, with more than $9,000
---National Multiple Sclerosis Society, with more than $20,000
KATU contacted all 30 charities with reporting errors. Many responded to KATU's request for information, though only one of the charities listed above contacted KATU back. 

A representative from Childhelp said that they were not aware of the error in reporting, and have now contacted the state to correct the information. The charity representative said they investigated the error and believe that there was a change in their staffing, and the new staff may not have been aware of the requirements for Oregon.

Many of the charities we contacted said it was an oversight, a mistake by staff or by the law firm filling out the forms. Other charities said they did not think they needed to report their disciplinary history because they did not believe their disciplinary agreements rose to the level required for reporting in Oregon.

Oregon's charities division, however, said charities still have to report actions involving disciplinary agreements and orders in other states, even if the charities do not think the actions are serious.

"They very well could be right," said Michael Kron, with Oregon's attorney general's office. "But we would like to be the ones to make that decision. It's really not up to the charities to make that call."

Kron said the state asks for disciplinary history information so they can follow up on the data if necessary. One reason to follow up might be if they see evidence that a charity might be misleading Oregonians. He said it is a simple requirement that charities must fulfill by law.

"If you're not being forthcoming with this information, the charities are doing themselves a disservice, as well as the people of the state," said Kron.

Many of the charities that responded to KATU said they have contacted the state and are now filing the correct information.

Here is a link to the database, compiled by The Center for Investigative Reporting and the Tampa Bay Times, that allows you to search for disciplinary history on charities.

Though the website is titled "America's Worst Charities," that does not mean that charities with disciplinary actions in the database are bad charities. As the website says, "Most of the actions in this database involve charities that are not among the worst in America. Many of the actions are related to registration issues, including late registrations."