The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and where all the money goes

I would encourage anyone that has ever donated money to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) to look into just how efficient they have been at spending your money. Remember, most of the money they spend every year comes to them in the form of tax-free donations from people like you and me.

A good place to start would be the GuideStar website. GuideStar gathers and publicizes information about tax-exempt nonprofit organizations such as the CBLDF.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a charity

The CBLDF has 501(c)(3) status. That means the CBLDF is recognized by the Federal Government as being organized for the public benefit. Because of this, the CBLDF has been given tax-exempt status. Though they are exempt from actually paying taxes to the IRS, they are required to submit to a Form 990 detailing their finances. From these yearly IRS Form 990’s you can look into just how efficient the CBLDF is at spending the money.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has attempted to define a set of standards for charitable organizations. This is from the BBB’s website:

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability were developed to assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.

In measuring the effectiveness of finances, the BBB recommends that charitable organizations spend at least 65% of total expenses on program activities. To discover what this amount is, take the amount located on Line 13 of the IRS Form 990 and divide it by the amount located on Line 17 of the same form. The result is the percentage of total expenses spent on program activities.

(Line 13 / Line 17) x 100 = the actual % spent on programing

CBLDF Program Activities

  • 2005 – 52.4%
  • 2004 – 39.7%
  • 2003 – 40.6%
  • 2002 – 53.5%
  • 2001 – 47.3%

By looking at these figures, it appears that the CBLDF has not been very close to achieving this before mentioned 65% benchmark. Not to say that they have a legal requirement to actually spend a certain percentage of their money on what they proclaim to do. In this case, the preservation of First Amendment rights for the comic book community. Evidently unless it’s the First Amendment rights of Gary Groth or comic book publisher Fantagraphics, but I digress.

If the CBLDF isn’t spending the money on defending the First Amendment rights of the comic book community, where is the money going? The BBB suggests that no more than 35% of related contributions be spent on fundraising.

(Line 15 / Line 1a + Line 3) x 100 = the actual % of contributions spent on fundraising

CBLDF Fundraising

  • 2005 – 27.3%
  • 2004 – 32.0%
  • 2003 – 44.9%
  • 2002 – 20.0%
  • 2001 – 17.3%

CBLDF spends a good amount of money on fundraising. By looking at the individual IRS Form 990 (Line 44 Column D) much of this is due to the costs associated with travel and attending comic book conventions. When I have donated my money to the CBLDF in the past it has been at a comic book convention.

So what does all this mean? Hell if I know. Take from this what you will. Don’t take my word on any of the numbers presented here. Though I have attempted to be totally accurate in the numbers and figures presented, I am no mathematician. I may have screwed up some of the numbers, but I don’t think I did. I would encourage anyone interested in this to go and look at the information for yourself.

It is after all very easily obtainable. I am not telling anyone not to donate to the CBLDF. I am only advising anyone that has donated to the CBLDF in the past or plans to donate to the CBLDF in the future to educate themselves about the CBLDF and what they really do with the money. Don’t rely on the same old CBLDF generated press release republished on all of the various comic book news websites and magazines to give you the entire picture. Those press releases are written to promote donations, not to convey all the facts.

Get the facts.

Update (24 July)

One of the formulas I used was wrong. I didn’t create the formula. I found it on a charity evaluation website that incorrectly showed how to calculate the fundraising numbers the Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends. Because of this, the fundraising percentages I originally posted were in fact too high. I’ve since corrected the formula and the numbers here have been corrected too.

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