Minnesota AG: Car charity had cozy deals

Published 10:30 am Thursday, October 15, 2015

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s attorney general accused one of the nation’s largest vehicle-donation charities on Wednesday of putting little money toward its advertised mission while steering millions to the for-profit companies owned by the group’s founders.

Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson said about one-fifth of the Car Donation Foundation’s $108 million in gross revenue over a four-year period went toward charitable grants, while the rest was used for overhead, marketing and payments to a pair of companies. The St. Paul-based foundation solicits vehicle donations under a “Wheels for Wishes” program that pledges the proceeds to local Make-A-Wish chapters to help children battling cancer.

Almost 50,000 vehicles were donated to the foundation in 2014, amounting to $37 million in revenue. The foundation makes itself attractive to donors by arranging quick pickup of inoperable vehicles and documentation that could be used for income tax deductions.

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“Donors need transparency to make informed decisions, including who they are donating to and how their money is going to be used,” Swanson said. “Transparency wasn’t given to donors here.”