American Cancer Society: Where does your money go?

ATLANTA,None — The American Cancer Society is a $1 billion-a-year operation and donors told Channel 2 they give to help find a cure, but a Channel 2 Investigation revealed the shocking amount of money that does not go to fight cancer.

Nearly all the money the American Cancer Society gets comes straight from donors. The charity's mission is noble.

After spending months breaking down the books, investigative reporter Aaron Diamant had a lot of questions about where the money goes.

"You never know which dollar is going to be the one that finds the cure," said Connie Jackson, a donor at the American Cancer Society's Dancing with the Stars Gala in Duluth, GA.

Over the last four decades, the Crusaders Ball in Gwinnett County has raised millions for the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society.

"It's still not enough, because they still haven't found a cure," said Terry Davis a donor to the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Walter Curran is the executive director of Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute and told Diamant, "They're an important source of funding. Our partnership is critical."

The Winship Cancer Institute receives research money from the American Cancer Society for cutting-edge cancer-treatment research.

In Chicago, Diamant spoke with watchdogs who do not hold the American Cancer Society in such high regard.

Daniel Borochoff of the American Institute of Philanthropy told Diamant, "They could be doing so much better."

Last month, the American Institute of Philanthropy gave the ACS just a "C" rating for financial efficiency.

"They're at a point of reasonableness, but just barely," said Borochoff.

The Channel 2 Investigation looked into the most recent audits, provided by the American Cancer Society.

Financial documents from the American Cancer Society:

Last year, the ACS claimed it spent 72 percent of its nearly $1 billion budget on programs and 21 percent on fund raising. Borochoff said the split is closer to 62 percent and 31 percent since the ACS spent millions of programming dollars to pay for direct mailing solicitations such as this.

Accounting rules let it slide because of a couple of lines on the back warning donors to wear sunscreen.

"People, when they give their money to the cancer society, they are thinking, 'cure cancer,' help people that are struggling as a cancer victim," said Borochoff.

Our Channel 2 Investigation found donors on the hook for the charity's ballooning employee pension plan.

At last count, their obligation was more than $600 million, four times what the ACS spent on cancer research last year.

Diamant asked the highest executive made available to Channel 2 by the ACS about those numbers.

"You're using documents that we had no legal reason to disclose. We disclosed them, because we wanted to be transparent and that's what you're asking questions about," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

Diamant also wanted to know why, in a year when the ACS made across-the-board cuts to programs, tens of millions, ACS tax records show the CEO's total compensation nearly doubled to more than $2.2 million.

"The CEO's compensation package is a very, very minute, miniscule almost negligible part of our overall budget," said Brawley.

ACS officials were quick to point out that by law, it has no choice but to pay those pensions it promised to employees.

As for executive salaries, the ACS said they are all set by an independent committee and are market-based to attract and keep top talent.