Investigate Autism Speaks for unlawful & unethical activity

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Investigate Autism Speaks for unlawful & unethical activity

This petition had 876 supporters
Parenting Autistic Children with Love & Acceptance started this petition to Governor Neil Abercrombie and

1.  Autism Speaks falsely claimed and advertised that it had funded over 92 million dollars in Autism related services in Wyoming and over 62 million dollars in Autism related services in: Vermont, Montana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Arizona, Delaware, Nevada, North Dakota, Idaho, Hawaii, Indiana, and Louisiana.

2.  After being heavily criticized for spending a negligible 4% of its budget on direct supports to Autistic people and their families, Autism Speaks Orange County Executive Director, Matthew Asner, announced on his Facebook page that the annual 2014 budget was increased from 3 million dollars to 8 million dollars.  When pressed for more information, Mr. Asner deleted his announcement and ignored all subsequent inquiries regarding his statement.  Autism Speaks HQ also ignored requests for clarification.

As a registered 501 (C)3 organization, Autism Speaks is publicly accountable for explaining its actions to its stakeholders.  Misleading donors and potential donors about the intended use of donations is a dishonest fundraising tactic.  As such, it is imperative that the government authorities responsible for regulating nonprofits and protecting the public, investigate this misconduct and take effective punitive and preventative measures to assure no further malfeasance by Autism Speaks.

It is notable that Charity Navigator had already rated Autism Speaks with one star for financial performance.   7 out of 10 charities they "evaluated spend at least 75% of their budget on the programs and services they exist to provide. And 9 out of 10 spend at least 65%.   Autism Speaks spends only 61.2% on the programs and services it delivers.  This places them in the bottom 10% of charities analyzed.  Therefore, even before the activities in question came to light, Autism Speaks was already failing to live up to its mission.  You may review the report here.

Below, please find the support for the allegations we are making.  For your convenience, we have created a folder which houses all of the images we will reference as our proof.  You can find the folder here.


1.  Fabrication of State Spending
:  This was first discovered by Kimberly Steiner of Mississippi in December of 2013.  Autism Speaks claimed to have spent over 62 million dollars in her state.  She ascertained from Autism Speaks, directly, that they had, in fact, spent less than $40,000 since 2008 in Mississippi.  After Ms. Steiner questioned and exposed this falsification, Autism Speaks removed similar claims from its online advertising---without letting stakeholders and donors know that the numbers were inaccurate.  

You can read Ms. Steiner's article on the topic which includes screenshots of the false claims and her email correspondence with Autism Speaks here..

Paula C. Durbin-Westby captured the additional states in internet archives.


2.  Failure to clarify claims of budget increase:  On January 15th, 2014, Matthew Asner posted the following statement to his Facebook page, "Important fact of the day. I learned today that Autism Speaks will raise it's Programs and Services budget from $3 million in 2013 to $8 million in 2014. Can't wait to see the impact!"

He confirmed, on the same thread, that the increase would be entirely allotted to direct supports to Autistic people and their families (family services grants).  When asked when more information would be made available, Mr. Asner deleted his Facebook post.

On January 17th after noticing the disappearance of the statement, California resident, Kelly Green, attempted to contact Mr. Asner via Facebook again.  After ignoring Ms. Green's queries for several days, Mr. Asner deleted the public question without clarification or comment.  This is the link to the post that was removed.  Given Autism Speaks' history of being less than transparent and forthcoming, Ms. Green had the forethought to create a screen capture of her post which can be viewed here.

Additionally, multiple stakeholders contacted both Mr. Asner and Autism Speaks on Twitter for clarification without an answer.  You can see some of the tweets here.

On April 1st, Vermont resident, Beth Ryan, opened a help desk ticket with Autism Speaks to inquire about the validity of Mr. Asner's claims.  

On April 8th, Kathy Johnston of Autism Speaks replied back with a content-free non-answer.

On the same day, April 8th, Ms. Ryan replied to Ms. Johnston indicating that her question had not been answered.

On April 15th, Ms. Ryan still hadn't received a reply to her email so she sent a follow up.  Finally, on April 16th, Ms. Johnson replied with the following:
"Beth - I had reached out to Matt but have received no response. 

It appears that our 990s and Annual Report, found on our website, is all we have right now. I have also reached out to another department and if I receive the information you are requesting I will gladly pass it onto you. 
Thank you for your support."

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The public makes donations to Autism Speaks in good faith and under the assumption that Autism Speaks has been forthright about the manner in which the funds will be disbursed.  Falsely claiming to increase direct supports from 3 million to 8 million and claiming to have donated 155 times as much to a single state than what was donated in reality is not honoring the obligations that nonprofit organizations have to operate ethically and transparently.

 

Moreover, the obvious attempts to cover up these wrongdoings rather than making the public aware of them so that donors can make informed giving decisions is reprehensible.  

We call on those responsible for looking after the interests of the public and those charged with investigating nonprofit misconduct to act without delay.

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