Cause-Related Marketing in the Crosshairs: What the New York Attorney General's Breast Cancer Investigation Means for Nonprofits and Their Corporate Supporters

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The New York Attorney General has recently crossed into what some consider to be the hallowed ground of charities, by launching an investigation into cause-related marketing of “pink ribbon” charities. In its own recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the New York Attorney General’s Office (the “NY AG”) is examining charities and commercial partners that are involved in a cause-related marketing campaign representing that a portion of the sales of a product or service will support breast cancer research or screening. Overall, this initiative highlights the focus of the NY AG in preventing charitable fraud in breast cancer charities. This action also demonstrates that organizations, both charities and marketers, engaging in increasingly popular cause-related marketing campaigns should pay close attention to state regulatory requirements for these activities.

New York’s Recent Investigations

This new initiative is a continuation of the NY AG’s focused effort on breast cancer charities. In June 2011, the NY AG filed a complaint against the Coalition Against Breast Cancer (“CABC”), which was alleged to be nothing more than a sham charity established to benefit its founders. According to the complaint, CABC solicited more than $9.1 million from the public but spent virtually none of it on breast cancer programs. Instead, the founders used the contributions to provide benefits to themselves and their families. In addition, CABC allegedly deceptively advertised an affiliation with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center when, in fact, no such relationship existed. These activities provided the basis for multiple alleged violations of New York's not-for-profit and charitable solicitation laws. A preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendants from, among other things, soliciting or collecting charitable contributions from any person was granted by the court on November 1, 2011, and the case is ongoing.

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