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KEEP THE FEE HIGH FOR FUND-RAISING PROS

With a recent veto, Gov. Pataki protected consumers and the good reputations of many not-for-profit organizations in New York State. He killed a measure adopted by the Legislature that would have reduced annual fees some professional fund-raisers pay to work in New York.

Professional fund-raisers now all pay $800 a year in fees, regardless of how profitable they are.

The defective bill would have lowered this fee to $200 a year for professional fund-raisers with profits of under $100,000 a year.

Although this might assist some smaller professionals, the minimal gains from changing the policy were heavily outweighed by more substantial losses. Many of the smaller professionals are the fly-by-night companies that have caused problems in the past and given fund-raising an occasional black eye.

It is important to stress what this bill does not do. It does not apply to non-profit organizations themselves, like the local volunteer fire departments or the Police Athletic League or Rotary Club, which often solicit contributions for good causes. It applies to fund-raising businesses that agree to operate these campaigns for a price.

Pataki noted that revenues from these fees went to the state attorney general's office to finance the administration and enforcement of state fund-raising laws. To slice the fees so drastically would deprive the attorney general of resources to enforce the law.

Regrettably, problems and abuses have arisen that involved professional fund-raisers. Sometimes they have been found misrepresenting a cause. It has been all too common for their fees for "administrative costs" -- in other words, their cut -- to eat up more than half of what they collect. Sometimes it's been 90 percent.

Regulation of this activity by Albany must be alert and thorough. No one wants to give to charity and then find most of the gift has been diverted or wasted by improperly regulated "fund-raising professionals."

Wisely, Attorney General Dennis Vacco has taken pains to make abuses public.

Enforcement and regulation do not detract from legitimate fund-raising activities. On the contrary, they protect the reputations of charitable giving.

To approve a reduction of the very funds that help make that enforcement possible would be a substantial mistake. Gov. Pataki, with his veto, prevented it.

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