Democrats Assail Loosened Nonprofit Mailer Rule

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Four congressional Democrats, including presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman, sent a letter to the postal service Friday urging reconsideration of a new rule allowing nonprofits that use for-profit fundraisers to enjoy nonprofit mail rates.

Lieberman, along with Reps. Henry Waxman, David Obey and John Olver, said changes to the Cooperative Mail Rule, which forbids for-profit mailers from using the rate privileges of their non-profit clients, would lead to fraudulent and abusive fundraising practices. Starting on Nov. 13, the U.S. Postal Service will do away with this part of the rule.

The bulk of the letter pertained to the case earlier this month in which The Vantage Group agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle charges it violated the Cooperative Mail Rule. The letter said Vantage illegally mailed 78 million pieces at the nonprofit rate and kept 76 percent of all funds donated.

"Unfortunately, this sort of abuse will be legal under the new cooperative mailing rule scheduled to take effect on Nov. 13," the congressmen wrote.

The new rules contain safeguards requiring that nonprofit organizations receive a list of consumers who donated to their fundraising mailing, their contact information and how much was collected. However, the nonprofit can waive those rights.

In their letter, the congressmen called the safeguards inadequate and don't ensure the non-profits will be able to solicit independent of an unscrupulous mail agency.

Many mailers have praised the new mail rules, arguing that they would help small nonprofits that can't afford to do their mail solicitations in-house. Critics, in particular the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, have countered that the looser rules that smaller non-profits will fall victim to professional mailing firms that will coax them into one-sided arrangements.

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