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Out of $1.6 million donated to Iowa sheriffs’ group, only a third used for charitable purposes

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-09 19:38:30-04

Over a span of four years, thousands of Iowans have donated more than $1.6 million to an organization run by the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, with only one-third of that amount used to help law enforcement and other charitable purposes.

Between 2016 and 2019, the most recent years for which data is available, Iowans donated $1,654,930 to the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association Institute, according to federal tax records. During that time, the association paid $619,855 in fees paid to its hired fundraiser, leaving the institute with $1,035,975 from the campaigns.

In recent years, the institute — an offshoot of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association — has used an Oklahoma fundraising company called ResourceOne, also known as Altus Marketing, to raise money from Iowans. The company solicits donations from the public through a series of direct-mail campaigns. Typically, donors are told their money will be used to support law enforcement, help send underprivileged children to camp, and to support the Iowa Special Olympics.

The donations are routed not to the ISSDA, which is a trade association of law enforcement officials, but to the ISSDA Institute, which is run by the same board of directors but is organized as a public charity so that donors can deduct contributions from their taxes.

Less than half of what the institute receives as its share of the fundraising proceeds is spent each year on the programs outlined in the solicitations: law enforcement training, Iowa Special Olympics and camp scholarships. The net result is that of all the money donated by Iowans, roughly one-third is used by the ISSDA Institute for the stated purpose.

For example, in 2019, Iowans donated $416,896 to the institute. After the fundraiser’s expenses were met, the institute was left with $247,124, and it spent a total of $137,186 on the programs outlined in the solicitation.

The president of the ISSDA, Capt. Randy Rowland of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, declined to speak to the Iowa Capital Dispatch about the association’s fundraising efforts, as did several other board members.

Last week, central Iowa residents began receiving a new round of direct-mail solicitations on a letterhead that states, in bold letters, “from SHERIFF Kevin Schneider, Polk County” alongside the badge-shaped insignia of the institute. The letter is signed by Schneider not as an ISSDA member but as the county sheriff.

“Your support for the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association Institute (ISSDAI) is needed today in order for us to provide not only critical support and training to your sheriff’s office, but also much-needed funding for our YMCA Camp in Boone and Iowa Special Olympics,” the letter states. “When you send your membership dues for $25, you will receive a 2022 membership card for your wallet, a 2022 Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association Institute window decal and bumper sticker, (and) a December 2022 Honorary Issue of The Gold Star newsletter… Thank you for helping us keep our community safe.”

The items that Schneider’s letter calls “credentials” – the wallet card, bumper sticker and decal – have been used by various police associations for decades as fundraising incentives, but they also have generated controversy. Because they are all items that might be displayed on or in a vehicle during a traffic stop, some law enforcement agencies have objected to their use on the grounds that donors may expect, if not receive, favorable treatment when pulled over.

Schneider did not respond to questions from the Iowa Capital Dispatch, but Sheriff Chad Sheehan of Woodbury County said he believes concerns about donor expectations are unwarranted.

“I have more faith in the citizens that choose to make a donation that they won’t have this expectation that somebody is going to look the other way,” he said. “I’ll give the people who donate credit that they’re not looking for that.”

As for why those specific types of incentives are offered in return for a donation, Sheehan said, “I have no idea.”

Sheriff Keith Davis of Wayne County, a vice president on the ISSDA board, agrees with Sheehan that donors don’t have any expectation of favorable treatment from law enforcement.

Asked what benefit the donors might derive from wallet cards and stickers, Davis said, “I guess I don’t know. It has always been that way. People are proud to show that they support law enforcement. Really to me, it’s no different than what I remember a few years ago, when we had so much bad publicity against law enforcement. Everybody was putting blue lights outside their home to show support.”

Donations to the ISSDA Institute are solicited as  “membership dues.” The donations are also reported to the IRS as membership dues, not as fundraising revenue.

As for the ISSDA Institute, it isn’t a school or training center for law enforcement, but a post office box in Atlantic, where the institute’s financial director, former Cass County Sheriff Bill Sage, lives. The donations, Sage says, are handled and processed by him, and then the professional fundraiser bills the organization for the cost of the solicitations.

Sage said there are “probably close to 10,000” individuals who have donated to the ISSDA Institute and are considered honorary members.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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