I’m writing this article in an attempt to answer the question.
“The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Cold Case Posse” is registered with the State of Arizona since 2006 as a non-profit corporation with Mike Zullo as its registered agent. They are also registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3), an organization eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions (commonly called a “charity.”) Their EIN is 01-0877871.
Arizona statute 44-6551 says:
In this article, unless the context otherwise requires:
1. "Charitable organization" means either of the following:
(a) A person determined by the internal revenue service to be a tax exempt organization pursuant to section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code.
So the Cold Case Posse is a charity, both federal and state.
Why do I ask this question? I always thought that charities had to file things that the public could look at, and I certainly am interested in the financial doings of the Cold Case Posse. Usually a charity puts its financial statements in plain sight, on their web site, for example. I checked the Cold Case Posse’s web site. I looked on the Arizona Secretary of State’s web site and I couldn’t find that the Cold Case Posse was even listed as a charity there. Should they be?
Arizona statute 44-6552 states that charities must register:
44-6552. Charitable organizations; registration; late registration penalty
A. Except as provided in subsection E of this section and section 44-6553, before soliciting its first contribution, whether through a contracted fund raiser or otherwise, a charitable organization shall file a registration statement with the secretary of state in a format prescribed and adopted by the secretary of state by rule.
Under the statute, “soliciting” includes “a request of any kind for a contribution.” I think a donate button on a web site counts as a solicitation.
Subsection E doesn’t seem to apply, but 44-6553 is interesting:
The following are exempt from the registration requirements prescribed in section 44-6552:
1. This state or any counties or municipalities of this state or their agencies.
So, is the Cold Case Posse a “county agency?” It certainly has that implied by its name, but the corporate registration states that its business type is “CIVIC” and not government. I’m not an expert on Arizona law, but it certainly seems to me that the Cold Case Posse is delinquent in filing as a charity with the State of Arizona.
Charities must also file IRS Form 990 on an annual basis, and the public disclosure rule requires that the most recent 3 filings be made available for public inspection. From what I can tell, if the Cold Case Posse filed form 990 with the IRS in 2012, it would be listed be listed at Pro Publica, but I couldn’t find it, and Pro Publica appears to have a comprehensive list (the IRS provides a database of filers to press organizations). Other MSCO posse listings are there. Charities with incomes under $25,000 may file Form 990-N, but I verified at the IRS web site that the CCP hasn’t filed that.
There are exemptions to IRS filing requirements for “governmental units and affiliates of governmental units.” Those exemptions are detailed in Rev. Proc. 95-48, 1995-2 C.B. 418. In determining whether an organization is an affiliate of a governmental unit, the following factors are considered (my notes in blue in reference to the Cold Case Posse Articles of Incorporation).
The organization was created by one or more governmental units, organizations that are affiliates of governmental units, or public officials acting in their official capacity. The articles say that it is “an association of a number of citizens … who have associated together.”
The organization’s support is received principally from taxes, tolls, fines, government appropriations, or fees collected pursuant to statutory authority. Amounts received as government grants or other contract payments are not qualifying support under this paragraph. The Cold Case Posse web site says: “We are awarded no tax dollars.”
The organization is financially accountable to one or more governmental units. This factor is present if the organization is (i) required to report to governmental unit(s), at least annually, information comparable to that required by Form 990; and (ii) is subject to financial audit by the governmental unit(s) to which it reports. A report submitted voluntarily by the organization does not satisfy clause (i). Also, reports and audits pursuant to government grants or other contracts do not alone satisfy this paragraph (c). The CCP articles do not contain any language about financial accountability to any governmental unit. Note that “voluntary reports” do not satisfy the requirement.
One or more governmental units, or organizations that are affiliates of governmental units, exercise control over, or oversee, some or all of the organization’s expenditures (although it is not financially accountable to governmental units as described in paragraph (c) of this section). The CCP articles talk about being a “loyal member of the Sheriff’s Posse” and to work on “an agreed upon investigation plan” (it doesn’t say who has to agree), but there’s no mention of financial oversight.
If the organization is dissolved, its assets will (by reason of a provision in its articles of organization or by operation of law) be distributed to one or more governmental units, or organizations that are affiliates of governmental units within the meaning of section 4 of this revenue procedure. The CCP articles say that upon dissolution, any residual funds will be given to charity.
This is going to take some more digging.