A U.S. senator has requested that congressional investigators at the Government Accountability Office review the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to oversee charitable organizations.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sent the letter yesterday in response to an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting in partnership with CNN.

The investigation found that hundreds of charities across the nation claim to help cancer patients, dying children and homeless veterans. But these charities divert most of the hundreds of millions of dollars they raise to for-profit solicitors. Reporters identified the 50 worst charities in the country. The rankings were based on the amount of money diverted to outside telemarketers and other solicitors over 10 years.

“Clearly the IRS is failing to ensure charitable groups fully comply with the law, or even meet the minimum standards for receiving such preferential tax status,” Coburn wrote. “This is not only unfair to taxpayers, but is resulting in misdirected federal subsidies that could instead be used to better the lives of millions through hundreds of exemplary and generous charitable organizations.”

The letter asks that the Government Accountability Office look at the top 10 nonprofits on the Times/CIR list.

And if it wants a quick peek, here they are:

  1. Kids Wish Network
  2. Cancer Fund of America
  3. Children’s Wish Foundation International
  4. American Breast Cancer Foundation
  5. Firefighters Charitable Foundation
  6. Breast Cancer Relief Foundation
  7. International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO
  8. National Veterans Service Fund
  9. American Association of State Troopers
  10. Children’s Cancer Fund of America

The letter specifically asks the GAO to determine how the IRS oversees these charities. Coburn also wants to know whether the IRS follows up when state regulators take disciplinary action against charities.

We have a pretty good idea the senator isn’t going to like the answers. Our reporting found that the IRS plays almost no role in regulating or weeding out bad charities. 

You can read the full letter here

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Kendall Taggart is a former data reporter at The Center for Investigative Reporting. Her recent project, America's Worst Charities, exposed systemic weaknesses in state and federal oversight of nonprofits. The series, produced in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times, won the Barlett & Steele Award gold prize. Kendall also was part of the reporting team that uncovered flaws in the way school regulators in California inspect and certify public schools to ensure they are seismically safe. That series, On Shaky Ground, won the public service award from Scripps Howard and two awards from Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kendall is a Massachusetts native and graduate of Reed College. She has lived and worked in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Trujillo, Peru.