Battle erupts in California over clothes donation boxes

Sun Apr 7, 2013 11:45am EDT
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By Sharon Bernstein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A political fight over charity collection boxes is brewing in California, where property owners complain that the boxes are sometimes dropped onto their land without permission, becoming magnets for graffiti and shelter for transients.

Goodwill Industries International, the most established of such U.S. charities, has pushed for years for regulation of donation boxes, and a California state senator has taken up the cause with a bill that would make it easier for property owners to have unauthorized boxes towed away.

State and local governments elsewhere in the United States, including Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina, have also stepped in to try to regulate the boxes.

Americans plop tens of millions of dollars worth of used clothing into the boxes each year, creating big revenue streams for charities and for-profit companies alike. The regulatory battle over the boxes, now in its fifth year in California, exposes the high stakes in the competitive world of charity fund-raising.

Goodwill executives worry that messy, untended boxes, sometimes owned by companies that are not affiliated with charities at all, give legitimate clothing collectors a bad name. They complain that the big plastic boxes are often blue in color, evoking Goodwill's azure logo.

But opponents of regulation, which include smaller non-profits DARE America and Planet Aid as well as for-profits, say the big reseller is just trying to squash the competition.

This week, frustration on both sides boiled over as media coverage intensified. Accused by opponents of bowing to Goodwill's expensive lobbyists, State Senator Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat, pulled her bill from consideration moments before it was to be heard in committee on Wednesday. She plans to bring it up again in a few weeks after more preparation.

"There's big money involved," said Ken Berger, president of the watchdog group Charity Navigator. "The players can get very passionate about these large sums of money."   Continued...

A Goodwill Donation Bin is pictured in New Jersey in this recent Goodwill Industries International photograph released to Reuters on April 5, 2013. REUTERS/Goodwill Industries International/Handout