Newspaper: Money From Shriner Circuses Goes to Temples, Not Hospitals
ORLANDO, Fla. - Only about 1 percent of the profits from Shrine circuses in 1984 went to care for injured children, despite circus promotions loaded with references to charitable work, a newspaper reported today.
Shriners, who run the riches charity in the nation, kept for themselves about two-thirds of the money they raised through all their fund-raising activities, according to a six-month investigation by The Orlando Sentinel.
After Shrine officials learned of the newspaper's probe they started to do some checking themselves.
"We have found some of the things you found…things that could be misinterpreted, and we have contacted the temples," Charles Cumpstone, executive secretary for the fraternity, told the newspaper.
But another spokesman for the Tampa-based fraternity and charity disagreed.
"I don't accept the one-third, two-thirds because I haven't seen the evidence of that," said Robert Turley, Lexington, Ky., attorney and member of the Shrine hospital charity's board of trustees.
According to the newspaper, the tax-exempt circuses are the Shriners' most visible and lucrative source of fund-raising. But temples, or clubhouses, reporting circus revenue to the Internal Revenue Service in 1984 donated only about 1 percent of their profits to Shrine hospitals.
In all, only five circuses that year gave any money to the hospitals, according to Shrine hospital records. The Shrine temples kept the rest, mostly for administration, conventions and travel, the newspaper reported.
Based on a survey of Shrine temples across the county, the Sentinel estimated there were at least 175 circuses in 1984. And based on the earnings shown by the temples for which IRS records were available, the Sentinel estimated that all the Shrine circuses in 1984 earned as much as $17.5 million or more.
The money donated by the five circuses to hospitals that year was $182,051.
When football games and newspaper sales are also taken into account, $10.4 million was raised in 1984 by the 76 Shrine temples for which there were IRS records. Shrine hospitals received only $2.7 million of that money. The rest - about $7.7 million - the temples kept for their own use.
Based on past income and spending and 1982 and 1983 tax records, the newspaper estimated that the Shrine's 185 temples in 1984 raised about $25.3 million from the public.
But Shrine hospitals, referred to in Shrine literature as "the soul of the Shrine" and "the reason for Shrinedom," reported receiving only $8.3 million from the temples.
The Shrine fraternity and the Shrine charity are set up as separate tax-exempt corporations.
The fraternity, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, has 880,000 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Panama. Its network of temples, which this year totals 188, operates much like any fraternity, existing chiefly to benefit its members.
The charity, known as Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children, was started by the fraternity in 1922. It operates 19 orthopedic and three burn hospitals. The executive boards that oversee each organization are made up entirely of Shriners.
A 1982 IRS survey ranked the Shrine, with $1.2 billion in assets, the richest charity in America. Its assets then were larger than those of any university in the country except Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton.