Charity Accused of Trying to Squelch Unflattering News About Itself
The Daily Oklahoman reported that the son of Larry Jones, founder and president of Feed The Children (FTC), AKA Larry Jones Ministries International, stated in a personal bankruptcy filing that he owed his father’s charity $950,000. When the Oklahoma City newspaper pursued its story, FTC appeared to attempt to squelch the news. “These are disturbing and reprehensible tactics, of the kind you would expect from the worst elements in society, not from our religious leaders,” commented Stan Tiner of the Oklahoman in an editor’s note that accompanied the story.
The editor of the Oklahoman reported that Larry Jones said he would give the newspaper a story "twice as good" if it did not publish its story, and FTC’s lawyer and other third parties insinuated that information about the private lives of the reporters covering the story had been obtained. A Feed the children spokesperson told AIP that the “twice as good” story Larry referred to was about the work of Feed the Children, and information about a reporter was discussed, not insinuated, with an Oklahoman editor “off the record and on background.”
Many charities encourage their employees to spread the word about their good works and fine leaders. At FTC employees are required to sign a confidentiality agreement as a condition of employment. The Oklahoman reported that one section of this agreement states: “The undersigned agrees not to write or publish, or cause to be written or published, anything relating to, or alluding to, Larry Jones International Ministries, Inc., Feed the Children, or any other subsidiary or about Larry Jones and his immediate family, or staff members, past, present or future or concerning vendors. This includes, but is not limited to television, radio and all other media.” While it is a common practice in the nonprofit field for employees to respect the privacy of donors and clients and not to reveal the trade secrets of any for-profit subsidiaries, FTC’s confidentiality agreement is exceptionally broad, and it may deter the scrutiny that every charity needs. FTC told AIP that it is reevaluating its employee confidentiality agreement.
AIP’s summer Charity Rating Guide reported on FTC employee thefts at its Nashville warehouse, the low percentage of its cash budget being spent on program services, accountability problems and other concerns. Since AIP’s summer publication, the Oklahoman has looked further into FTC’s practices and activities. Some of the newspaper’s findings follow:
- A $950,000 loan or promissory note to finance a framing business was later assumed and defaulted on by Larry Jones’s son, Michael “Allen” Jones. Larry Jones told the Oklahoman that FTC recovered its money in the foreclosure of the business. FTC told AIP that the co-owner of Allen Jones' business also guaranteed the note.
- Nearly none of the $47.5 million in cash raised in fiscal 1998 was spent on food. FTC told AIP that this is true but that “there is a lot more to Feed the Children than feeding children.”
- An unnamed staff member quit his job at FTC after learning that only $2.8 million of the extra $6.7 million in cash contributions raised during the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing went to help victims. When asked by the Oklahoman why less than half of the extra money went to bombing victims, Larry Jones said this happened because donors did not specify where the extra money was to be spent.
- A resolution was approved by FTC’s board that “any real estate transaction” be conducted by The Gene Geren Company, which is owned by Gene Geren. Gene Geren and his wife serve on FTC’s board. Mr. Geren has received over $110,000 since 1992 for real estate services. FTC has also transacted business with two board members who are car dealers. FTC told AIP that it uses a competitive bidding system and that directors abstain from voting on transactions in which they are involved.