Tuesday, February 12, 2013

More corrupt than the BCS: Parents for Megan's Law and the “victim industry”

More corrupt than the BCS: Parents for Megan's Law and the “victim industry”

                In the popular book “Death to the BCS,” the authors contend that Division 1-A college football bowl games exploit many legal loopholes to make massive profits. Unless your football fanaticism goes far beyond the actual game, you may not even be aware that the “Bowl games” are actually considered nonprofit organizations. Obviously, when we think nonprofits, we may think of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or perhaps your local food bank and soup kitchens. Who would have guessed our federal government had given one of the most corrupt systems in our culture nonprofit status?

                In chapter 6 of “Death to the BCS”, the authors reveal the compensation for the CEO of a number of bowl games. For example, the CEO of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (formerly the Emerald Bowl) made $377,475 in salary, about 11.2% of the expenditures for running the game. A political action committee known as the “PlayoffPAC”, whose investigation helped spur government intervention, found the average CEO pay for nonprofit organizations with budgets between $10 million-$25 million was $185,270. Yet the Sugar Bowl CEO was paid $451,674 in 2007, and received a 42.9% raise two years later. The Outback bowl CEO made even more, nearly 4 ½ times the average.

                These numbers are important because the impact of these high salaries ultimately impact tuition rates at universities. Despite the alleged payouts of the bowl games (between $300,000 and $17 million depending on the game), most universities barely break even on their athletic budgets, and of course the losses are compensated by raising tuition. In the end, whether or not you are a football fan, you are paying the price for this corrupt system. There are few organizations more despised in our culture than the BCS, which has an approval rating of less than 10%, far worse than even President Bush at his worst.

                However, there are organizations in existence that make the BCS fatcats look like street-corner peddlers by comparison.

                Victim industry advocates know they have found the proverbial goose Lane the golden eggs. With so much focus on sexual abuse and the sex offender registry and our media, a number of entrepreneurs have found a way to turn this fear into profits. It has become a lucrative industry, with a number of organizations making substantial profits while offering little in return. Just as with the BCS system, a small number of people are making huge profits.

                For the sake of simplicity, my focus will be on a single organization as my example – the controversial New York-based “Parents For Megan's Law”, run by Laura Ahern.

                In PFML’s 2007 tax records, the group describes its organization this way:

                “PFML is dedicated to the prevention of childhood sexual abuse through the provision of educational advocacy policy and legislative support services. PFML maintains a website where information can be found on Meagans Law [sic] nationwide, childhood sexual abuse prevention and links to other resources for advocacy and prevention information.”

                So how much does an organization whose primary function is running a website that consists of a few resources and referrals to other advocacy groups need to stay afloat? Apparently a lot -- In 2007, $1.1 million, with just under $880,000 coming from government contributions (your tax dollars at work), in 2009, $1.15 Million, and in 2011, $1.07 million, all to fund an organization with roughly 20 members, most of them volunteers.

                As executive former director of PFML, Laura Ahern collects $120,000 per year, about 11.2% of the organization's total budget (comparable to the CEO of the “Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl” in terms of percentage of expenses going to a single salary), and that is before other perks that typically go with such a job. Compare that salary to a far larger organization with a larger worker base, the New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity, who spearheaded construction for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina; in 2009, the Executive Director of that organization was paid $97,500. It is interesting to note that Ahern is the only listed employee in the tax forms with a salary. In addition, $170,000 was listed as “compensation of current officers, directors, trustees, and key employees” with another $575,000 for “other salaries and wages.” That is roughly 81% of the budget going into employee salaries and compensation alone. Only about $205,000, or 19% of the budget, goes into the logistics of running the organization (they aren't the only culprits: Mark Lunsford's defunct JMLF gave nearly al proceeds to Lunsford himself, while the NCMEC spends roughlt the same amount on operating costs, including lobbying for the Adam Walsh Act, while Ernie Allen makes nearly roughly $1 million in salary and benefits).

                Also of interest, considering the condition of the PFML website, with its many errors and myths, and its simple format, I find it hard to believe the organization spends roughly $10,000 a year to keep such a poorly devised website up and running.

                These numbers are especially troublesome considering that the vast majority of income for this organization comes in the form of government grants. It will be interesting to see how much the salary increase Ahern will give herself once she receives the $1.1 million per year fee to be assessed to the people of Suffolk County, NY, for the purpose of “monitoring” the homeless registrants currently being shuffled from shelter to shelter.

                While the BCS system is corrupt and exploited by a small number of corporate fatcats, at least some small argument can be made that bowl games have benefited the communities through tourism and at least job creation on a temporary level. With PFML, you see similar big payouts to a CEO, with compensation going to a far smaller number of individuals, and virtually no benefit to the community by way of job creation and tourism.

                Like advocates for the BCS system (who claim a playoff would “kill tradition and stifle the economy), people who are made rich by the victim industry, like Ahern, have fed us a healthy diet of lies and distortions of the facts in order to protect their livelihoods. In 2002, PFML released impromptu findings of an alleged survey of the state registries, which has given us the prevailing myth of “100,000 missing sex offenders”. This myth has been prevailing in the media, even in the face of research thoroughly dispelling the myth. To this day, PFML has yet to publish the methodology and data to justify the assertions of their “research”. In addition, PFML gives each state a “report card” of their states registries. Of interest is PFML’s insistence the state of Florida's registry is the gold standard for Megan’s list. Of course, Florida has padded their stats with thousands of dead, incarcerated, deported, and out-of-state registrants. Like the previous study, there is little information given to help determine how they came to these conclusions.

                This is the most famous of PFML’s myths, but their website is full of lies, deceptions, and distortions of the facts (such as the “sex offenders have hundreds of victims” myth). In 2008, I critiqued a number of victim industry advocate sites, and came to the conclusion that PFML offer decent prevention tips, but was clouded by a large number of sex offender myths and reliance on fear mongering tactics.

Ahern and PFML is only one of a huge number of victim industry advocates out there. Many of the smaller organizations ultimately benefit only the few people at the center of the group. Having a six figure salary in an economy where benefits are going down, unemployment is going up, and the government is looking for ways to trim expenses even in previously untouchable areas is no small feat. Ask yourself how an organization consisting of roughly 20 employees can possess a million dollar budget and a CEO with a six-figure income, putting her in the upper echelon of American earners.

The authors of “Death to the BCS” liken the bowl fat cats to “drug cartels”. If we can make such comparisons to individuals profiteering from a corrupt sports game schematic, then what can we say about an organization whose existence is justified by exploiting the fear of sex crimes in our culture? At the least, we can state that groups like PFML are more corrupt than the BCS.