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Advertise on the Tentacle

October 9, 2003

Helping and Hurting At The Same Time

John W. Ashbury

The county commissioners have again displayed their schizoid personalities with their decision earlier this week to increase the fees they charge nonprofit organizations to conduct "gaming" fundraising events.

Every spring there are numerous mini-battles over to whom and how much tax-generated dollars will be given to local charities. Many of these organizations are well-deserving and offer services to the public that the government just can't provide.

But the idea of taking money from hard-working citizens who are barely getting by themselves and providing services to their fellow residents just continues the never-ending cycle of economic woes. This Robin Hood scenario sometimes has the effect of making those less fortunate more prosperous than those providing the largess.

Enter the county commissioners, whose espousal of "caring" for the less fortunate often has the unintended consequence of making matters worse. This time they are taking from those who really do provide for the less fortunate in our community, telling them they have to pay the government more for the privilege of raising funds, and thereby having less to give to those in need.

There are real problems in allowing any organization that is legally a nonprofit to conduct "gaming" type fundraisers. One of these is the oversight of how the funds realized are actually spent. There isn't any.

The top 15 sellers of tip jars, those little tear-open tickets that provide chances to win cash prizes, are mostly service organizations, like the American Legion, Eagles, Amvets, Moose, Owls and Elks. But where does the money they raise really go?

Some closely associated with these groups say that most of the money raised through various "gaming" contests goes to subsidize the daily operation of their "clubhouses," and to provide cheaper prices for alcoholic beverages for their members and guests. This isn't charity.

Of course, the members and guests are the ones playing these gaming contests, so, I guess, the argument could be made that they are subsidizing their own subsidizing.

I must disclose that I am the "tip jar czar" for a local service club. Our members volunteer to sell tip jars three nights per week from September through April at a local establishment that serves alcoholic drinks. Selling such adult beverages is a requirement of all venues for the sale of tip jars.

Our club now pays an annual license fee of $500 to the county. We also buy the tip jar bags for $10 apiece. There are 400 tickets in the "game" we sell. And after all the "paybacks" and the winning "holder" are paid, we net $65 per bag.

Over the past several years, we have been able to raise approximately $15,000 per year in net proceeds. Every single penny of that money goes directly to support local charities and individuals with special needs. Through our foundation we are able to fund scholarships to the three county institutions of higher education. And in one of the biggest projects each year, we purchases animals at the 4-H sale at the fairgrounds during Fair Week. The animals we buy are then resold and that money goes to another local charity - like the Red Cross, or, as was the case this year, The Literacy Council.

The county commissioners make no distinction between the non-profit organizations who spend 100 percent of the gaming funds realized on local needs, and those who spend the bulk of their net gaming proceeds on their own internal "needs." Perhaps they should.

But that opens another can of worms. To allow the county to peruse their books would be another intrusion by the government on the private sector. We need less government, not more. And, besides, the "gaming" fees would have to increase exponentially to handle the increase staff and paperwork.

On the one hand, our commissioners are taking tax dollars and giving them to charity, perhaps one that you don't particularly want funded. Now, on the other hand, they are increasing the fees they require for permission to raise funds for these very same charities, thus reducing the funds available to be donated.

Anyone out there know a good psychiatrist who will work for free?

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