California AG Sponsors State Bill to Address Online Charitable Fundraising Fraud

According to a press release issued on Wednesday, California’s chief law enforcement officer has endorsed a bill that would more closely supervise online charitable giving platforms. Assembly Bill 488, authored by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, would authorize the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to protect donors and charities from deceptive or misleading solicitations through enhanced oversight of online platforms.

The DOJ is currently responsible for the regulatory supervision of “charities, trustees, commercial fundraisers, and other legal entities that hold or solicit donations for charitable purposes,” the press release explained. Recently, internet platforms have changed that landscape through the creation of additional ways that individuals can donate and charities can receive funds.

Presently, Attorney General Rob Bonta’s new release states, California’s solicitation laws do not extend to online platforms. As a result, “deceit and mistreatment of charitable donations” beyond the reach of state oversight has occurred. If enacted, AB 488 would reportedly make four fundamental changes.

First, starting Jan. 1, 2023, the proposal would “create a level playing field for all charitable giving platforms, regardless of business model, by defining two new groups of entities, ‘charitable fundraising platforms’ and ‘platform charities’ that are subject to the Attorney General’s supervision.” According to the bill, the distinction would separate donation solicitation sites from charities themselves.

Next, the bill would require subject entities to provide meaningful, forthright disclosures on their websites, timely distribute donations, and prohibit solicitations for charities not in good standing per the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts.

In addition, the law would permit some solicitation without a charity’s prior consent, so long as certain protective criteria are met. Finally, the proposal would authorize the attorney general to implement regulations requiring donor notification and reporting requirements, as well as promoting transparency and accountability.

“AB 488 would create the framework to oversee online charitable fundraising platforms by providing my office, which already oversees charitable organizations and fundraisers, the tools to match today’s virtual market,” Bonta remarked in a statement. “Supervision of third-party online platforms is essential in order to make sure that donations go towards their intended purposes. This measure will give California’s generous donors and charities the peace of mind we all seek as we support one another amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”