REPORT: Ohio Fundraising Scam Aimed at Gun Owners?
A recent investigative report by Cleveland.com suggests the leader of an Ohio organization may be running a fundraising scam, asking for donations purportedly to help pass pro-gun laws, then funneling the money to an out-of-state, for-profit business and pocketing the money along with family members.
According to Cleveland.com, Chris Dorr, Executive Director of Ohio Gun Owners, and his brothers, Ben and Aaron, have set up “what amounts to a family business” in multiple states, including Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Idaho, Tennessee, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Georgia. They have also set up a national organization called American Firearms Coalition.
The formula appears to be identical across all of these organizations: use Facebook videos to attack pro-gun lawmakers and gun rights organizations, then ask for money. They also oppose pro-gun legislation, then take credit for other people's work when the legislation passes.
Iowa seems to be ground zero for the Dorr “franchise.”
Iowa state Rep. Matt Windschitl, who shepherded through a 2017 bill that created a Stand Your Ground law and allowed Iowans to sue local governments for creating gun-free zones, said Iowa Gun Owners first opposed the bill — in the form of continuous fundraising emails to their members — but weren’t actively involved in talks. They then took credit for its passage, he said, prompting him to call out the group on the floor of the Iowa House as a “scam.”
“They are not motivated by a genuine appetite for advancement of Second Amendment virtues,” said Windschitl, a trained gunsmith. “They are there to stir the pot and make as much animosity as they can, and then raise money off that animosity.”
“I’m all for advocacy,” said Minnesota state Rep. Jim Nash, a leading pro-gun Republican in Minnesota. “But the best advocacy groups go in with the end goal in mind of the legislative outcome they want, not just their personal wealth increasing. And that one you can quote me on exactly.”
How do the Dorrs compensate themselves with donations from gun owners? The investigation looked at official IRS tax records and reached some shocking conclusions:
When it comes to that, their tax filings are opaque, which their critics, including an anonymously run Facebook account called “The Truth About Iowa Gun Owners,” frequently point out.
The IRS requires nonprofit organizations to disclose compensation paid to their top employees. But the various Dorr groups for which tax filings are available report paying their employees zero compensation.
For example, the 2018 tax filing for Minnesota Gun Rights says Ben Dorr worked 70 hours a week for the group, while Chris Dorr worked 15 hours a week. The 2016 filing for Iowa Gun owners says Aaron Dorr worked 70 hours a week. The 2016 filing for Ohio Gun Owners says Chris Dorr worked 40 hours a week.
But none were paid, according to their tax filings.
When questioned by critics in the past about their compensation, Ben Dorr on social media has pointed to management fees reported elsewhere in their filings and a company called Midwest Freedom Enterprises. Tax filings for Iowa Gun Owners say the firm performs all its management functions. They also say from 2015 to 2017, IGO spent $205,362 on management.
There is scant mention of Midwest Freedom Enterprises on the Internet, but the company appears to be connected to the Dorrs. The firm previously was registered to a West Des Moines address also used by Iowa Gun Owners. A review published for Labrinth Inc., a company that helps people with paperwork for nonprofit organizations, identifies Aaron Dorr as Midwest Freedom Enterprise’s director of marketing. Iowa campaign finance filings show the company has performed paid political work like advertising and direct mail.
Cleveland.com asked Scott Hubay, an Ohio attorney who specializes in campaign finance law, to review the filings for the Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio chapters. He said the combination of the Minnesota chapter’s high fundraising expenses, the management fees paid by the Iowa and Minnesota chapters to a Dorr-tied political firm and the lack of disclosure about employee compensation raises questions about how the Dorr groups spend their money in general.
“It seems to me like what they’re doing is using them just to drum up business to themselves,” he said. (emphasis added)
How much money are Ohio Gun Owners and the Dorr brothers' other state franchises bringing in through the front door then moving out the back door to their for-profit business? Cleveland.com's analysis indicates it's a lot, as this example from the report suggests:
In its most recent three years, public tax filings show Minnesota Gun Rights — the only Dorr-run group that has disclosed fundraising expenses — reported spending $601,221, of which 90% was spent on fundraising.
In the nonprofit world, a figure of 90% spent on fundraising is extreme. According to well-established industry standards, the bulk of donor dollars should be spent on programs, not on overhead or fundraising.
The Better Business Bureau’s standards, published in 2003 by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, recommend that at least 65 percent of the nonprofit’s total expenses should be for program expenses. The nonprofit’s total expenses should not include more than 35 percent for fundraising. Charity Navigator sets a goal of “less than 10 percent” of the nonprofit’s budget for fundraising spending and considers an organization that spends less than one-third of its budget on program expense to be failing in its mission.
When Ohio Gun Owners set up shop in Ohio, we expressed our concerns, noting that it is not here to help. We stand by that original assessment.
Most Ohio lawmakers say they've never met Chris Dorr and that he spends no more time in the Statehouse than it takes to make yet another Facebook video filled with conspiracy theories and fear-mongering, always followed by an impassioned plea for more money.
Indeed, in yet another fundraising video posted just this week, Dorr admitted:
"I've not had any great length conversations with Speaker Householder."
Representative Larry Householder (R) is Speaker of the House and Chairman of the Legislative Service Commission, the very person who sets the state's legislative agenda and who oversees the agency that provides the Ohio General Assembly with drafting, research, budget and fiscal analysis, for all legislation.
Facebook and Facebook videos are free. And online tools to send mass emails are relatively cheap. Direct mail is expensive, but the Dorrs' direct mail appears to be focused on asking for donations, not gun rights advocacy.
So where is the money going?
According to this investigation, the answer now seems to be clear.