By Ray Stern
By New Times
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By Stephen Lemons
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By Chris Parker
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Jerry Brock slowly leans over and to his right, stretching slightly to reach the candy jar stashed behind his office desk.
Very deliberately, he opens the wrapper to a piece of hard candy, and precisely places the morsel in his mouth. The ritual gives him a moment to contemplate disturbing information.
"It's amazing. I'm shocked," Brock says in the restrained and measured voice of a successful businessman, someone who attained financial security one hour at a time over 30 years, with a "pay as you go" philosophy.
A self-educated man who made a fortune in the automobile-salvage business, Brock decided a few years ago that he wanted to make a significant financial contribution to a worthwhile cause. "I don't know why. But it was something in here," he says, gesturing toward his heart. As fate would have it, a friend asked him to join the East Valley board of directors of the American Cancer Society.
His experience on the board led him to believe the society was a model charity, one that devoted a vast amount of its resources to battling a dreaded disease and to helping those afflicted with it. More important, this good work appeared to be accomplished efficiently, with just 15 percent of donors' funds allocated to management, fund raising and overhead.
Before long, Brock and his wife, Shirley, began considering donating $100,000 to the society--a contribution that would put them at the pinnacle of philanthropists in the state. At first, their donations were much smaller, but still in the thousands. In thanks, the society gave the Brocks a set of kachinas, which sit on a credenza behind his desk. Finally, in 1994, the Brocks decided to go for broke. They pledged an additional $91,000 to the Arizona division of the American Cancer Society to finance a cancer telephone hot line for three years. The society awarded the designation "Lifetime Excalibur" to the Brocks. It is the society's highest donor honor.
The magnitude of the Brocks' donation is matched in Arizona only by contributions from syndicated writer Erma Bombeck's Family Partnership and from a foundation created by real estate magnate Harold Grossman. The donation was not something Brock took lightly. Even so, he did no research into how the society's Arizona division actually spends its money, other than reading the division's scanty, one-page annual report.
"I guess you could call it blind faith," Brock says of his trust in the society.
That faith has been rocked by a scathing report on the Arizona division prepared by two economists whom the American Cancer Society has labeled, without providing any proof, tobacco-company propagandists.
But the numbers used by George Mason University's James Bennett and Loyola University's Thomas DiLorenzo have nothing to do with tobacco. They speak for themselves. They come right out of the Arizona division's audited financial statements--statements reviewed by New Times--and paint an astounding picture.
Contrary to its popular image as a bootstrap operation scraping by only with the help of volunteers, the American Cancer Society's Arizona division is more than well-off. It has some $4.6 million in cash and securities on hand.
It is a large organization, with 75 full-time and part-time employees. It spends nearly 22 times as much on salaries and overhead as it does on delivering direct services to Arizonans.
It is an enterprise that pays its top executive $119,000 per year, plus $15,000 more in insurance and retirement benefits.
Even though its mission is to "diminish suffering" from cancer, it is a charity that has seen its total assets increase by 42 percent since 1988, to $10.9 million.
It is a politically active group, spending $24,000 of contributors' money to spearhead a tobacco-tax initiative approved by voters last November, and using more donation dollars this year to lobby the Arizona State Legislature.
By any financial measurement, the Arizona division of the American Cancer Society is a wealthy entity. Yet last year, this powerful charity, which pays no taxes, spent a paltry $47,183 on "specific assistance" for thousands of Arizona cancer patients and their families.
These numbers leave Brock stunned.
"Things may have been different with my gift had I known that," he says solemnly.
Jerry Brock is interested in learning more about the Arizona division's finances, but other current and former cancer society board members are reluctant to delve deeply into the financial numbers.
Bobbi Casano of Tempe has spent ten years working as a cancer society volunteer, and is adamant in her support of the organization, regardless of what the fine print may reveal. A current ACS-Arizona board member, Casano says she saw the 1994 audited financial statement and remembers discussing it generally at a board meeting. She admits, however, that she has not "gone over it with a fine-tooth comb."
Nevertheless, Casano says she's confident that the money is well-spent, and that donors should rest easy. She believes spending on salaries and overhead is at a reasonable level. "I'm very comfortable with the way we are doing our accounting and with what the public is getting for its donations," she says.
Another longtime volunteer, John Waters of Tempe, at first expressed interest in learning more about Bennett and DiLorenzo's report, but later tempered his comments. In the meantime, he had discussed the report with ACS staff members in Phoenix.