OKLAHOMA City-based charity under investigation

Sunday, August 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Feed the Children has been accused of soliciting donations in Nashville, Tenn., last winter without a valid permit.

The Oklahoma City-based charity is under investigation by Nashville's Charitable Solicitations Board, which could seek a court order that would force Feed the Children to disclose the number of people solicited during a three-month period.

The charity could be fined $25 to $50 per person solicited, said Marilyn Swing, board director.

Feed the Children has refused to disclose information to the board, citing ``First Amendment rights to communicate through the U.S. mail and by television broadcasting.''

In Nashville, organizations must obtain annual permits from the Charitable Solicitations Board in order to solicit donations.

Feed the Children had a permit, but it expired in November. That was about a month after the international charity admitted at an Oklahoma City news conference that its chief financial officer had forged audits of the nonprofit organization.

The Nashville board deferred action on Feed the Children's application for a new permit until new audits were completed, Swing said. The charity was granted a permit to resume solicitations Feb. 23.

The board is investigating whether Feed the Children solicited donations in Nashville from mid-November through Feb. 22, when the charity did not have a valid permit.

The board asked Feed the Children in a July 13 letter to disclose the number and dates of all solicitations mailed to Nashville and Davidson County residents. The board also wants the number and dates of all infomercials broadcast on a Nashville television station from Nov. 16 through Feb. 22.

``Feed the Children is highly concerned that the information requested, if provided to the board ... will become documented,'' the charity's Nashville attorney said in a June 22 letter to the board. ``This information is highly proprietary and could result in competitors gaining insight about and, therefore, advantage with regard to Feed the Children's fund raising.''

Larry Derryberry, the charity's Oklahoma City attorney, said Feed the Children did not solicit donations by telephone or personal contact while it lacked a permit.

Feed the Children has been under public scrutiny since 1999 when the charity's employees were accused of stealing donated items from a Nashville warehouse.

The organization reported receiving $324.7 million in donations in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 1999.