SitePoint, an Australian publisher of computing books and websites, decided to raise some funds in aid of the victims of the recent Australian bushfires. They advertised, and started, a three-day sale of five PDF books for US$29.95, with all proceeds to be donated to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfires Appeal. They hoped to raise US$100,000.
After overwhelming response, they shut the promotion down early, when it reached US$50,000.
Customers who had delayed ordering their books were irate, and were just getting up a good head of complaining steam on the thread that announced the closure, when one of the SitePoint crew posted an explanation.
Apparently, Consumer Affairs Victoria contacted SitePoint to explain that you can’t raise more than a certain amount without being a registered fundraiser. The process of registration takes 28 days (allowing time for things like criminal background checks). Penalties for non-compliance are stiff:
The penalty is $25,783 in the case of a corporation and $12,892 for an individual - and/or 12 months imprisonment.
You can see why SitePoint backed off.
There’s certainly a nice juicy “government interference” story in here which, if this were not such a techie niche matter, would make good copy in libertarian circles. It’s certainly tempting to get annoyed at the lost opportunity to help; I was, at first.
But, upon consideration, I can’t stay vexed. The law is clearly in place for good reason; unregulated charity collection is a magnet for fraud. How much less would people give if they didn’t know that the companies they were donating to were registered and checked?
This anecdote of the pain incurred while finding a balance between practicality and idealism is proffered in lieu of detailed commentary on the early days of the Obama administration.