Veterans’ Charity Dumped Fundraising Group Over Exorbitant Fees

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Thanks to help from TPM Reader BK, we uncovered some congressional testimony from last year about BWM Direct, the Washington direct marketing firm that raises money for GOP candidates, among others, but doesn’t give them much of it.

The House oversight committee held a hearing on December 13, 2007, about veterans’ charities. The legislators heard a complaint from Bonnie Carroll, the executive director for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a group that provides support to families of fallen combat troops.

Carroll had this exchange with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) at the hearing on Dec. 13, 2007. She doesn’t identify the firm during the hearing, but in a phone interview with TPMmuckraker this week she confirmed she was referring to BMW Direct:

Mr. CUMMINGS. Well, Let me ask you this. How much money did you make under the telemarketer? How much money did you make?

Ms. CARROLL. If I could just defer to our CFO here.

Mr. CUMMINGS. Sure.

Ms. CARROLL. It is upset,ting to say that our income was approximately $50,000 to their total of $500,000.

Mr. CUMMINGS. Wait a minute. Let me get this right. I know I didn’t hear that right. Let me get this right. They got $500,000, and you got $50,000?

Ms. CARROLL. Yes, sir, that is correct.

Mr. CUMMINGS. Jiminy Christmas.

Ms. CARROLL. And we terminated that very quickly, and it was a regrettable experience.

Carrol provided us with this data on how their deal with BMW played out between 2005 and 2007:

In 2005, the firm raised $371,375 and spent $366,375, giving TAPS a net of $5,000.

In 2006, the firm raised $187,394 and spend $176,310, giving TAPS a net of $11,084.

In 2007, the firm raised $3,187 and took no expenses out, giving TAPS a net of $3,187.

In total, BMW Direct raised $561,956 on behalf of TAPS, spent $542,685, giving TAPS a net of $19,271.

Let’s do the math. That’s…3.5 percent. So all those people who thought they were giving money to support widowed wives of slain combat troops, less than a nickel on the dollar actually did.

While TAPS was disappointed with how much money they ultimately received, Carroll said BMW Direct didn’t misrepresent itself from the outset. “BMW was forthright,” she said, and was not “raising false expectations on either instantaneous or total economic returns.”

We also talked to the National Black Republican Association, which used to have BMW Direct raising money for its Black Republican PAC. Frances Rice, the group’s chair, said they stopped working with BMW Direct last year. The two parties had a “disagreement over strategy.” Rice declined to elaborate.