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September 01, 2015

Report Delves Into Ill. Charity's Ties to Telemarketers

In the second part of an investigative report on charity telemarketing, the Chicago Tribune details the ties between a veterans nonprofit and for-profit call centers that keep the lion's share of revenue from appeals.

About 85 percent of the $1.4 million raised by VietNow National Headquarters went to commercial solicitors, with the Rockford, Ill.-based charity spending most of the rest on administrative costs and a convention, according to the report. Less than 7 percent of VietNow's 2014 revenue went directly to services for veterans and their families.

"It may not seem like much, but it's the best we could do. That's probably the best way to put it," said Joe Lewis, who became the charity's president last year. "I wish [critics] could show me another avenue or how to raise money that we could embrace that would provide us with the funds we need for our organization."

VietNow is a client of Safety Publications, a Chicago call center that was the subject of the first part of the Tribune series. Mr. Lewis said he plans to renegotiate the charity's telemarketing contracts.

The article also looks at VietNow's longtime ties with Richard Troia, who helps manage the group's fundraising by referring it to other providers. Illinois officials banned Mr. Troia in 2004 from charity soliciting in the state. He and VietNow were involved in a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that charities and telemarketers have a free-speech right to split donations however they see fit.