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Editorial: “Coalition” Is Not a Dirty Word

This week, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, on behalf of generous people who thought they were donating money to a legitimate charity, filed a lawsuit to shut down and hold accountable the people who operated the Coalition Against Breast Cancer, Inc. (CABC) and the telemarking company, Campaign Center, Inc. This is the scam operation we reported on in February of 2010, Chumming for Dollars, Giving to Charity or Big Business?

Reading the lawsuit, which is on the Attorney General’s website, is as chilling as a brutal Scandinavian mystery. The lawsuit sets forth layer after layer of cold-hearted corruption and greed on the part of the defendants. We commend the team of investigators, led by Assistant Attorney General Caroline Press in the Charities Bureau, for the depth of their research which has built the foundation for a solid case. The lawsuit reads, “..in the last five years alone—a period that has witnessed 200,000 women die from breast cancer and millions more fighting to survive it—CABC has squandered and misused virtually all of the $9.1 million it raised in the name of breast cancer....In the last three years, despite raising over $4 million CABC funded mammograms for only 11 women.”

This same week, we attended a scheduled meeting of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition that vividly demonstrates the vast difference between a real, honest-to-goodness charity and a money-making scheme that hides behind the word “charity.” In 2005, the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition under the leadership of Laura Weinberg started a small program to give a gifted high school student an opportunity to have a summer internship in a breast cancer research laboratory. That first year one student went to work at Tufts University’s School of Medicine under renowned cancer researcher Dr. Ana Soto. Every summer the program has grown.

This year nine high school students will work with researchers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, the Silent Spring Institute, the Stony Brook University School of Biomedical Engineering and the Soto/Sonnenschein Laboratory at Tufts. Partnering in this effort is the Huntington Breast Cancer Coalition. The students won’t be fetching coffee either; they will be working alongside dedicated scientists who are committed to solving the puzzles of cancer. The meeting was an orientation for the students and their parents to prepare them for their summer experience. It was inspiring to see their eager faces and to wonder at their futures.

This is what local charities are doing to promote research. They are doing this, and more, with money raised from relatively modest, homespun fundraisers, never, ever, from telemarketing.

It was because we knew the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition and had reported on their programs that we knew instantly that something was amiss when we received a call from a telemarketer last February claiming to be from “your local breast cancer coalition.”

Both Ms. Weinberg and Karen Miller, President of the Huntington Breast Cancer Coalition while relieved that after years of complaints, CABC will finally be shut down, are concerned that there may be a hesitancy or fear on the part of the public to support the Long Island breast cancer groups, most of which have “coalition” in their names.

If all of the breast cancer coalitions on Long Island that do so much good work had the time, money and energy to do so, they should file a civil suit against CABC for the damages incurred from the attempted theft of their good reputations by hijacking their cause and name.

Don’t be afraid to be generous. When in doubt, just say, “No,” to telemarketers.  Never give out credit card information to a caller. Give to local groups whose work you know. Investigate state or national charities by going online to Charity Navigator, American Institute of Philanthropy or state attorney generals’ websites.

Don’t let the bad guys win; be a savvy donor to the organizations worth your dollars and your trust.

- Carol Frank