SPOKANE - JANUARY 22, 1998 - The Attorney General today announced a commercial fund-raiser, with solicitation offices throughout Washington, has agreed to stop misleading the public when soliciting donations on behalf of the largest professional firefighter organization in the state.
The Gehl Group is a Florida-based fund-raiser which makes calls on behalf of the Washington State Council of Firefighters. In a consent decree filed in Spokane Superior Court, the fund-raiser agreed to pay the state $55,000 and stop misrepresenting to contributors that donations would be used to purchase equipment and provide training for firefighters throughout the state. Gehl also agreed to stop intimidating and harassing those who choose not to give.
"People gave to show support and help their local firefighters," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "The Council does not give money to fire departments to pay for fire fighting equipment or training. Those items are all funded by tax dollars allocated to local fire department budgets."
The Gehl Group solicits donations across the state by selling concert tickets. Some people were told that half or more of the ticket price would go directly to the charity. Reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office show that since 1990 the Gehl Group has given an average of 17 percent of the money collected to the Council In 1996 Gehl collected more than $6 million dollars, with just over $1 million reaching the firefighter organization.
"It's not against the law to keep that much money," said Gregoire," however it is against the law to misrepresent how the money will be used or intimidate and harass people into giving."
Some consumers who declined to purchase a ticket were told by the fund-raiser that without a donation they may not be able to depend upon a prompt response from the firefighters or paramedics.
The fund-raiser also agreed to:
disclose their name and the location of the charity when seeking donations;
stop misrepresenting that funds would be used to directly benefit local firefighters, including volunteer organizations;
disclose that a portion of donations will be used to pay lobbying expenses incurred by State Council of Firefighters; and stop calling consumers who ask to be removed from their telephone solicitation list.
Earlier this month the AG's office announced a similar settlement with the fund-raiser for Washington's two major police organizations. The AG's office advised the firefighters and the police organizations of their responsibility to make sure all fund-raising activities protect contributors from being mislead or deceived.
Gregoire urges consumers to give to their favorite charities, but only after asking some key questions about how the money will be used and what percentage will go directly to the charitable cause.
To check out whether a commercial fund-raiser or charity is registered and to verify how the money is used, call the Secretary of State's Charities Information Hotline at 1-800-332-4483 (360-753-1485 for the hearing impaired), or e-mail a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To file a complaint regarding a charitable solicitation call the Attorney General's Office at 1-800-551-4636 (1-800-276-9883 for the hearing impaired) or visit the AGO homepage at www.atg.wa.gov. Consumer tips and statutes regarding the charitable solicitations are also available on the Secretary of State's web site.
The Gehl Group has solicitation offices in Spokane, Tacoma, Olympia, Everett, Mountlake Terrace, Tukwila, and Vancouver.
The consent decree with the Gehl Group was filed in Spokane County Superior Court by Senior Assistant Attorney General Owen Clarke, Jr.