UPDATE 11/1/18 - Last month our In Your Corner team exposed a new side of the robocall epidemic.
Some of them make you think you're donating to veterans, cancer research, or law enforcement.
Turns out your money could actually be funding political ads and mailings instead and as we told you last month, It's perfectly legal.
Lora Hadfield thought she was donating to a worthy cause, but instead of her $250 donation went into the pockets of a PAC, a Political Action Committee, a group that raises and spends unlimited amounts of cash to try to influence political elections and campaigns.
“It pisses me off,” said Lora. “I don't want to support political stuff.”
The person soliciting Lora over the phone for political stuff was actually a paid solicitor from the Heroes United PAC doing business as the Volunteer Firefighters Association.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Washington DC based organization has brought in over 3-and-a-half million dollars and spent nearly all of that money on donor outreach and media buys, helping fund the campaigns of Democratic and Republican Congressional candidates across the country, none of whom are in Oklahoma.
That doesn’t sit well with Lora.
She added, “I feel they're a bunch of [beep] that ask me for money that doesn't go to the fire department.”
Lora says her pair of cash donations totaling $350 dollars was in honor of her two boys, John and Edward, both of whom died young.
They risked their lives as volunteer firefighters to protect their community of Paoli.
We brought family friend and real life Paoli volunteer firefighter Lt. Terrel Erwin up to speed on the PAC calling Oklahomans pretending to be affiliated with firefighters.
“It is sickening,” he said.
Paoli's Volunteer Fire Department primarily receives its funding from a county sales tax and its annual pancake breakfast fundraiser.
Erwin says 100 percent of the donations raised stay in Paoli and they will never call anyone soliciting donations.
“No, we would never call and ask for that,” he said. “We would want them to come out in person.”
Before you donate, listen up.
The guy behind Heroes United PAC also has ties to other Political Action Committees, using charitable sounding names that make you think you're helping injured veterans and breast cancer victims.
FEC filings show most of the cash they're raking in is also going to donor outreach and media buys, not veterans or breast cancer causes.
The name that keeps coming up tied these Pac’s is Zachary Bass.
Our repeated emails and phone calls trying to reach him were not returned.
No one is really keeping close tabs on PAC’s, but they are required to make their donations and spending public with the Federal Election Commission, which keeps a database that is available for anyone to view online.
CHOCTAW, Okla. - Debbie Foster didn't recognize the number. She answered anyway.
It was one of those pesky automated robocalls that disrupted Foster's day and tugged at her heart strings.
The robocaller claimed to be raising money for an organization by the name of Breast Cancer Health Council.
“My very, very dearest friend died from [breast cancer], and I was with her during chemotherapy," Foster said.
Don’t be fooled. It might sound like a charity, but it is not.
Breast Cancer Health Council is registered as a Political Action Committee, an organization that raises and spends money to elect and defeat political candidates.
PACs will use robocalls to collect a bunch of money, fast, without much oversight but they are required by law to register with the Federal Election Commission.
That means all their donations and spending are public.
“You should be able to go look at the 990s and legitimately read what they've been giving to,” said Hal Hoxie of the Butterfield Memorial Foundation.
Hoxie’s worked in fundraising for years and said it's perfectly legal for a PAC to solicit under a charitable sounding name.
“He's legitimately put these together without violating any laws, but his intention is nefarious at best,” Hoxie said.
In this case, the bread crumbs lead to a guy by the name of Zachary Bass.
The FEC filings list him as the treasurer for Community Health Council PAC, doing business as the Breast Cancer Health Council PAC.
According to FEC filings, the organization brought in over $771,000 in less than a year and spent nearly all of the money on donor outreach and media buys but most of the money doesn't appear to be helping breast cancer victims or research.
“It is deceptive marketing to get us to believe we're giving to breast cancer, which is a legitimate concern, and instead they've registered themselves under a PAC and they're making money,” Hoxie said.
Bass’s name is also tied to several other PACs.
We keep calling and leaving messages for Bass. So far, he hasn't called us back.
Foster can't stop the robocalls but, with October being breast cancer awareness month, she wants to put Oklahoma on alert.
“I know everybody in America has been touched by breast cancer, so they are going to automatically assume that these people are honorable,” she said.
Hoxie said it’s much safer for people to do their own research.
“Make contact with the company you thought was calling you and find out if they legitimately do those calls,” he said.
The In Your Corner bottom line:
- You have the power to control where your hard-earned cash goes.
- Donate it wisely.
- Check out a PAC.
- Check out a fundraiser or charity: OK Secretary of State, Charity Navigator, GuideStar