DES MOINES-- Attorney General Tom Miller said today that a New York-based animal welfare organization has agreed to change its mail solicitations to conform to Iowa consumer protection laws -- and to pay a total of $50,000 to four Iowa animal humane societies.
"We argued that their sweepstakes mailings were misleading," Miller said. "We were concerned that people may have been misled to believe that they'd won a major prize, such as a car or expensive vacation, and that they had to make a donation."
The $50,000 payment has been made by North Shore Animal League, Inc., of Port Washington, N.Y. The $50,000 will be divided between four Iowa animal shelters: the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Inc., the Dubuque Humane Society, the Scott County Humane Society, and the Keokuk Humane Society. The four shelters have worked with North Shore in promoting animal adoptions.
Miller said North Shore Animal League (NSAL) raises millions of dollars each year. U.S. News & World Report called it "the self-proclaimed largest pet adoption center anywhere" and said the New York-area shelter had found homes for more than 30,000 stray animals in 1995. Last year U.S. News reported that NSAL took in about $29 million and used about two- thirds of that for program expenses and one-third for fund-raising.
"Our problem was with NSAL solicitations," Miller said. "We argued that their mailings violated Iowa's Prize Promotion Act by failing to disclose the odds of winning and the value of prizes being offered." Under Iowa law, a solicitation in connection with a prize must either indicate prominently that "no payment is necessary" or indicate the odds of winning and the value of prizes.
In a letter to Miller's Office, J. John Stevenson, President of NSAL, said "any sweepstakes mailing by NSAL into Iowa will be in conformity with your office's stated interpretations of the Iowa Prize Promotion and Consumer Fraud Acts."
Miller said his office also questioned NSAL on the use of donor lists obtained through their solicitations, indicating that NSAL had sold the lists to organizations sued in the past by the Attorney General for consumer fraud. NSAL agreed to disclose in future mailings to Iowa residents that mailing lists may be made available to other direct mailers, and that recipients could remove their names from lists by calling a toll-free number and making the request.
Miller said his office believed that a disproportionate number of older persons appeared to reply to the sweepstakes solicitations and file complaints with his office. The sweepstakes mailings used an Iowa address, leading some recipients to believe the organization was headquartered in Iowa.