Update: The Senate rules committee assigned the bill to the Judiciary committee a few days ago, 5/22/19.
The Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection prepared a seven page analysis of AB 1181. The proposed bill, which has since passed the Assembly, would change accounting for GIK when the donor says the donated materials may only be distributed overseas.
Financial reports filed with the California Attorney General and solicitations to citizens of California would have to comply with the new accounting.
The following will be a loooong read, but the analysis by the committee is helpful for understanding the bill. There is good background in the discussion.
I will quote the analysis and provide some comments along the way. I quote the material without permission because it is a public document.
Highlights include the AG describing a successful enforcement action in which a charity turned a $225,000 purchase of meds into a $34,900,000 donation. Also, a representative of the California Society of CPAs makes an invalid argument against the bill.
From the committee analysis:
2) Author’s statement: According to the author, “AB 1181 addresses reported practices by some charities that grossly inflate the value of their publicly reported revenue and program expense, especially with respect to in-kind donations of pharmaceutical drugs. Overvaluation of the gifts-in-kind leads to an inflated total revenue for the charity which makes the charity appear more successful and efficient to the public and potential donors. An inflated revenue, in turn, can serve as a basis to hide excessive fundraising and administrative costs because these expenses would now appear smaller in comparison to the inflated total revenue. Inflated reports may also increase the charity’s ranking by charity watchdogs. This type of accounting practice is manipulative, misleading, and inconsistent with state law that safeguards transparency, fair reporting, and ensure a level playing field for honest charities that report accurate data to the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts.”
At an overall level, the statement above provides a survey of the regulator’s and author’s concern regarding overvaluation of GIKs.
In particular, notice the last comment saying charities without large volumes of donated materials are at a disadvantage when appealing for donations from consumers.
Back to the analysis:
3) Addresses longstanding concerns with overvaluation of gift-in-kind donations: Under California law, the AG oversees registered charities to ensure that funds received are properly managed and devoted to charitable programs. The office derives its authority from the Charitable Purposes Act, which was originally enacted in 1959. This law generally requires every person or entity that holds or solicits property for charitable purposes in California to file specified documents and information, including annual financial statements, with the AG. These reports are in turn used by the AG to investigate and litigate cases of charity fraud and mismanagement by trustees and directors of charities. This bill seeks to address longstanding concerns with charities overvaluing gift-in-kind donations, a type of charitable donation where goods and services are given instead of cash to buy needed goods or services.
As far back as 2012, Forbes reported on a multi-state effort to crack down on nonprofits who greatly exaggerate the value of donated goods to make themselves look more successful than they actually are.
“In theory, there’s nothing wrong with gift-in-kind itself. A donation to a worthy charity is a donation to a worthy charity. The problem comes largely with the valuation. Cash is easily valued at, well, the amount of cash. But freed of the precision that cash provides, some charities value donated goods at many times the market price. The overvaluation makes a charity seem larger and more popular than it is, and also increases–artificially–financial efficiency ratios that many donors look at.” (Barrett, Charity Regulators (Finally) Eye Overvaluation Of Donated Goods, Forbes (Nov. 8, 2012).)