Acting forUtah, attorney general Mark Shurtleff joined a campaign to define First Amendment protections and require telemark-eters soliciting donations for charities to inform consumers exactly how the money will be spent.
Shurtleff and the attorneys general from 17 states recently drafted a friend of the court brief in an attempt to to stop telemarketers from misrepresenting how donations are used. The attorneys general sent the brief to the United States Supreme Court in connection with Ryan vs. Telemarketing Associates Inc., an Illinois case.
The facts in Ryan vs. Telemarketing Associates involve a professional fundraiser who failed to mention that only 15 percent or 10 percent of the donations would actually go to the charity, explained the Utah attorney general.
The solicitors were charged with fraud for indicating that a substantial portion of the money would go to the charity. But the Illinois Supreme Court dismissed the charges, indicating it was protected by the First Amendment.
"We have to stop unscrupulous fundraisers from fleecing the public and lying about where the money is going," emphasized the Utah attorney general.
The Illinois case has added relevance because of the generous public outpouring after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Several states investigated complaints against fundraisers who gave only a fraction of donations to the victims of the attacks.
"This ruling could open a Pandora's Box if telephone solicitors are allowed to say whatever they want, without any regard for the truth," stressed the Utah attorney general. "This could actually stop people from giving to legitimate charitable organizations."
In the brief, the attorneys general contend that the Illinois court's ruling immunizes fraud in the name of charity.