Connecticut’s top law enforcement official is asking charitable groups raising money around the Newtown school shooting to disclose more information, an unprecedented step suggesting the state has questions about how contributors' money is being spent.
At least 69 groups are raising money around the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year, where 20 small children and six teachers were killed. Together, they've raised at least $15 million dollars from all over the world to help the victims' families and to assist the Newtown community.
But state Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein say the charities have not disclosed enough information about what they are doing with the money. The two officials want the charities to disclose how they’ve spent the funds they've raised so far and what they plan to do with the remaining money.
“This is a voluntary request for information, but we strongly urge you to participate so this important information can be provided, through our websites or other means, to the giving public,” Jepsen and Rubenstein wrote in a letter to the groups.
Ken Berger, CEO of charitynavigator.org, which helps contributors figure out which charities to trust, applauded Rubenstein's efforts.
“It’s an unusual step, absolutely,” Berger said. “It’s great what the AG office is doing. We should see more of this to make sure the money gets to victims sooner -- and more of it goes the victims."
Berger said Caryn Kaufman, a representative for a group of Sandy Hook victims said on a recent TV show that only about $800,000 to under a $1 million have been given directly to families.
“It’s been 3 ½ months, and so far less than a million (dollars) has been dispensed" Berger said, "So this is really bad and upsetting people a great deal."
After the December 14 shooting, several websites and Facebook pages were quickly created offering things like bracelets, bumper stickers or direct donation pages with Newtown and Sandy Hook remembrances and tributes. It's often unclear where those funds end up.
Weeks after the massacre, New York City resident Nouel Alba was arrested for raising money on Facebook for a "funeral fund" for Noah Pozner, one of the first graders killed in the shooting. The fraud was discovered by his family members.
Newtown itself has established two charitable funds, both accessible through the town's website. One provides direct aid to the families -- each family recently received $3,000 from the fund -- and another is for a public memorial.
Berger said those who wish to contribute to a charity can specify how they want a donation to be spent -- whether on school repair, aiding the victims' families, or in some other way.
Donors should also ask charities where the money goes and how long it will take to reach recipients, Berger said.
“If you don’t get a straight answer from a charity, go to the next one,” he said.
Connecticut officials have asked the charities to respond to the questionnaire by April 12. While the information will be made public, it's not meant to be an endorsement of a specific charity, officials said.
News Editor Grant Burningham contributed to this article.