Where the money goes, and what you didn’t know


Olivia Griffin, Staff Reporter

The school’s Relay for Life event has raised more than $15,000 so far.  But of that, there’s a chance that only $3,450 will actually go towards cancer research and treatment as the American Cancer Society has some dark secrets that its generous donors and supporters are not aware of when pledging to aid the organization.

According to Charity Navigator, a leading charity watchdog agency, only 23 percent of the $894,321,351 raised in the last year by the ACS actually went towards cancer research and treatment programs, earning it a dismal one-star rating from the website, making it among the worst charities in the country in this regard.

    Here on campus, however, Relay for Life organizers have a more optimistic view of the charity. Senior Alex Pages, who is event co-chair for today’s Relay, believes that the organization is about more than the money for research.

“Not only is the ACS about cancer research, but it is also about cancer awareness and other ways to get people to be more healthy,” Pages said. “We want to detect cancer early and prevent people from dying from cancer. Whether it is cancer research or cancer awareness, it is all helping society and bringing us toward a society where fewer or no people die from cancer.”

Charity Watch, another watchdog agency for non-profit organizations, shows that ACS CEO John Seffrin has an annual compensation package salary and benefits package worth more than $1 million, while VP William Barram was paid more than $2 million last year, making them amongst the highest paid “non-profit” employees in the nation. In comparison, the median salary for a non-profit CEO is $132,784, according to a study done by Charity Navigator.

    “Due to these excessive salaries and other information I have found, I can no longer ask anyone for any money for the American Cancer Society as I have no interest in paying these highly paid executives while they lay off 140 individuals who needed their jobs [in 2009],” former Relay for Life organizer Vernon Hill said in The Carolina Coast.

    Pages sees the event in a different light.

    “Relay for Life is still a worthwhile event because not only does it raise money, but it also gets the community aware,” he said. “It is a celebration for people who have survived and a remembrance of people who have died. Sometimes we tend to forget people who have died, and this event really brings forth an opportunity to remember.”

    Some experts, such as Dan Pallotta, author of “Charity Case” and “Uncharitable”, argue that paying a premium for hiring the top talent often translates to more revenue.

    “The expertise of a top-paid executive will increase the amount of money raised at the non-profit organization and also provide more efficient leadership,” Pallotta said.

The ACS, however, was not always a billion-dollar giant of a charity. It began in 1913 as the American Society for the Control of Cancer, with one main purpose: to persuade physicians to perform regular exams for various types of cancer.

This organization was rebranded as the American Cancer Society during the 1940s, and by 1946, half of its board members were non-scientists. In the 1950s, the leaders of ACS included W.B. Lewis, vice president of the tobacco giant Liggett and Myers, and the association showed little enthusiasm for supporting research on the link between cigarette smoking and cancer.

In 1992, the ACS issued a joint statement with the Chlorine Institute in support of the continued use of organochlorine pesticides, despite clear evidence that this substance was found to cause breast cancer. That same year, the ACS launched a clinical study in which 16,000 healthy women with a high risk of breast cancer were given the drug tamoxifen, also known by its brand name Nolvadex and Soltamox, over the course of 5 years, under the assumption that the drug was essentially harmless and would essentially reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. What the ACS failed to tell the participants was that tamoxifen had been found to be a highly potent liver carcinogen in rodent testing, as explained in the National Institute of Health’s study, “Cumulative exposure to tamoxifen: DNA adducts and liver cancer in the rat”, in addition to causing uterine cancer in humans. However, according to the ACS’s summary of the drug, studies have shown that the drug could lower the risk of breast cancer by up to 50 percent, leading to the drug’s approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, their website does concede that “its pro-estrogen effects can lead to cancer of the uterus and problems with serious blood clots, including stroke.”

Between 1999 and 2011, the ACS enlisted telemarketing company InfoCision to raise money for the charity, and in the 2010 fiscal year, InfoCision raised $5.3 million for the ACS.  But there was a catch.

“None of that money – not one penny – went to fund cancer research or help patients, according to the society’s filing with the Internal Revenue Service and the State of Maine,” David Evans said in an article on Bloomberg.com.

Due to its huge cash reserves, land holdings, significantly above-average salaries and other assets, the ACS has been referred to as the “world’s wealthiest non-profit” by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which also asserted that “the ACS is more interested in accumulating wealth than saving lives.”

    “The current budget of the ACS is $380 million and its cash reserves approach $1 billion, yet its aggressive fundraising campaigns plead poverty and lament the lack of money available for cancer research, while ignoring efforts to prevent cancer by phasing out avoidable exposure to environmental and occupational carcinogens,” Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., of the Cancer Prevention Coalition said in an article posted on the Cancer Prevention Coalition’s website .

    As Thomas DiLorenzo, professor of Economics at Loyola College in Maryland, sums up, “If current needs are not being met because of insufficient funds, as fundraising appeals suggest, why is so much cash being hoarded?  Most contributors believe that his or her donations are being used to fight cancer, not to accumulate financial reserves. More progress in the war against cancer would be made if they would divest some of their real estate holdings and use the proceeds – as well as a portion of the cash reserves – to provide more to cancer services.”

    Many top officials have concluded that the Society’s policies and practices prevent it from reaching its supposed goal of finding a cure for cancer.

    “The American Cancer Society is fixated on damage control – diagnosis and treatment – and basic molecular biology, with indifference or even hostility to cancer prevention,” the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health said in a study of the organization. “The ‘nonprofit’ status of the Society is in sharp conflict with its high overhead and expenses, excessive reserves of assets and contributions to political parties. All attempts to reform the Society over the past two decades have failed; a national economic boycott of the Society is long overdue.”

Recommended Links for Further Reading:

American Cancer Society: The World’s Wealthiest “Nonprofit” Institution by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., www.preventcancer.com/losing/acs/wealthiest_links.htm

Charity Navigator’s Report on the American Cancer Society, www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=6495.

The ACS’s Financial Disclosure, www.disclosurenewsonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/ACS_Combined_Financials_FY2009.pdf