The Humane Society of the United States has long engaged in misleading and deceptive fundraising, using the pictures of needy cats and dogs to pull on Americans’ heartstrings while only giving 1% of its money to pet shelters. Now one of the top fundraising firms used by HSUS—if not the top fundraising firm—is being held to account in a major way for some of its other activities. Quadriga Art, a direct-mail firm that HSUS has paid over $20 million in the past few years, and a second firm have come to a $25 million settlement with the New York Attorney General over deceptive fundraising for veterans causes.
New York opened an inquiry into Quadriga after CNN reported that Quadriga was keeping the vast majority of the money raised on behalf of the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. At that time, DVNF had reportedly raised $55.9 million since 2007, yet paid Quadriga more than $60 million between 2008 and 2010. Quadriga was able to (ab)use a contract that allowed it to assume the cost of a fundraising campaign and keep the money that came in.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman summed up the case: “Taking advantage of a popular cause and what was an unsophisticated start-up charity, these direct-mail companies used cleverly designed but misleading mailers to raise tens of millions of dollars in donations from generous Americans, nearly all of which went to the fundraisers and their agents, and left the charity nearly $14 million in debt.”
With HSUS, it’s somewhat similar—except that it’s a charity taking advantage of a popular cause. HSUS direct mail suckers people in with images of pets but does not contain a disclaimer that the organization doesn’t run any pet shelters or that it isn’t affiliated with local humane societies. Further, about half of the money spent by HSUS goes to overhead, according to charity watchdogs, and that includes solicitation campaigns where the fundraiser keeps all or almost all of the money raised.
Interestingly, a second fundraiser that was part of the settlement, Convergence Direct Marketing, also has ties to HSUS. The firm is run by Craig Irwin, son of former HSUS CEO Paul Irwin, who left in 2004. The elder Irwin had his own scandals at HSUS. Irwin reportedly had a vacation home in Maine renovated on HSUS’s dime. Irwin may have introduced the head of another scam charity, SPCA International, to Quadriga Art. And in 2008, The New York Times reported that a contractor hired to do software development for HSUS had significant ties to Internet porn. (That didn’t fly well with Irwin’s new employer, the American Bible Society, where Irwin had continued to work with this businessman.) The Times reported that this fellow with ties to Internet porn also hired Irwin’s son Christopher, though it’s not clear for how long.
According to Craig Irwin’s official bio with Convergence, he has “worked with” HSUS along with the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. So that makes two HSUS fundraisers who have been held to account. Kudos to the New York Attorney General for seeing this case through. With the Oklahoma Attorney General announcing an inquiry of HSUS in March, HSUS has got to be sweating.