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Goodwill pushes for greater regulation of donation boxes

Kendall Taggart/California Watch A USAgain donation box in Oakland 

Local Goodwill chapters recently lost their fight for stronger state regulation of donation boxes when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have required organizations to get written consent before putting boxes on private property.

But in cities and counties across the country, Goodwills are pushing for municipal and state regulation – and often winning. Local chapters have argued that donation boxes divert money from the community and contribute to blight. 

Goodwill chapters have helped pass legislation in several states, including New Jersey and Michigan.

The Goodwill Industries International headquarters in Maryland provides support to community-based Goodwill agencies seeking regulation, but it is not seeking legislation nationwide, said Lauren Lawson, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

Two years ago, California Council of Goodwill Industries successfully pushed for state legislation that required owners of a donation box to clearly display information about whether it was a for-profit or nonprofit organization.

As collection bins become an increasingly common phenomenon, local officials are stepping in with ordinances and fees. Berkeley, Sacramento and San Pablo, for example, have already placed restrictions on donation boxes. 

Kimberly Scrafano, the vice president of development and community affairs for Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay, said the increasing use of donation boxes has cut into donations that previously would have gone to Goodwill.

Some nonprofits and for-profits operating donation boxes argue that the real motivation behind the recent state legislation was maintaining Goodwill's dominance in the secondhand clothing industry.

“Everybody viewed it more as anti-competition rather than fair regulation of the industry,” said Julie Watt Faqir, a lobbyist for USAgain, a for-profit company that collects about 275,000 pounds of clothing and shoes per month in the Bay Area, according to its website.

The Northern California Recycling Association, D.A.R.E. and the California Police Chiefs Association also opposed the bill.

USAgain and some other operators of donation boxes have come under scrutiny for profiting from clothing that people intended to go to charity. A Chicago Tribune investigation linked USAgain to Tvind, a multimillion-dollar Danish group that’s been investigated for fraud and tax evasion. USAgain said it has no connection with Tvind.

Organizations that solicit with donation boxes say they help reduce the amount of clothing that goes to landfills every year by making it easier for people to donate used goods.

“There’s plenty of textile and clothing to be collected,” Faqir said.

The governor’s veto message indicated he would be willing to consider a similar bill in the next legislative session if it were more narrowly crafted to avoid unintended consequences to local charities and nonprofits. Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Merced, who authored the bill, lost her campaign for state Senate on Tuesday.

Correction: previous version of this story misspelled the name of the Danish group that has been under investigation. It is Tvind.

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