Be Wary of Project Cure

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

One way to judge charities is to determine what percentage of income from donations is used for worthwhile purposes such as public education, research, or patient services. Well-run charities typically spend at least 75% of their funds for public benefit, and some use over 95% for this purpose. Florida-based Project Cure, Inc., does not—and should not be considered a charity.

Note: Please do not confuse the organization described below with the Colorado-based Project C.U.R.E., (Commission on Urgent Relief & Equipment), a highly respected distributor of medical supplies and services, or Project Cure, Inc., a drug treatment facility in Ohio.

Also, please do not confuse Project Cure's president, Michael S. Evers, with Michael F. Evers, who is a respected fundraising consultant in the New York City Metropolitan area.

In August 2008, I received a solicitation for the "2008 . . . Area Annual Fund Drive" from the National Diabetes Fund, P.O. Box 96673, Washington, D.C. 20090 [1]. The message, addressed to "Dear Friend," said that, "Our annual drive is the single most important fundraiser of the year to support our fight against diabetes."

How does the National Diabetes Fund "fight diabetes"? The reverse side of the reply form stated:

NDC Facts: Solicitation for NonProfit Purposes Fund
National Diabetes Fund is a program of Project Cure. Contributions made to Project Cure are used for fundraising expenses, including administrative costs, public education and program services. The services of a paid professional fundraiser, Direct Response Consulting Services, are used to professionally assist them in this solicitation of funds. In the last fiscal year, Project Cure raised a total of $5,115,252. Its expense distribution was 73.64% to fundraising, 1.53% to administration, 7.74% to program services, and 17.09% to public education in conjunction with fundraising appeals. The cost of this solicitation is charged partly to fundraising and partly to public education. Fundraising costs include costs incurred in establishing a donor base. Public education costs include costs incurred in disseminating information contained in solicitations. . . .

Project Cure raises funds under three programs: National Diabetes Fund, Prostate Cancer Fund, and The Alzheimer's Disease Fund [1].

These numbers mean that in 2006, Project Cure used no more than 25% of its reported gross income for program services and public education. But I believe that the actual percentage amount was less because the "public education in conjunction with fundraising" was not what most people would consider public education. The only "educational" information in the solicitation I received was a statement that "today over 15 million Americans suffer from diabetes and there is no cure for this disease." As far as I can tell, Project Cure gives no money for research into the diseases related to its fundraising. Its current public education activities include a Web site (naturalhealthvillage.com) that mainly posts tidbits by Peter Barry Chowka every two weeks and links to news articles on other sites.

In contrast, the leading voluntary health organizations fight their chosen diseases by giving grants and providing information that is reliable, practice, and comprehensive. In 2006, for example, the percentages of expenses used for these purposes were 76% for the American Diabetes Association, 86% for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 77% for the Alzheimer's Association and its chapters. and 76% for the Prostate Cancer Foundation [2]. Some people donate to Project Cure because the names it uses resemble these respectable charities.

Background History

Project Cure's tax returns describe its aims this way:

Lobbying—Project Cure, Inc.'s lobbying program is directed at the White House and Congress, promoting four programs: The Alzheimer's Disease Fund, Center for Advanced Heart Research, The National Diabetes Fund, and the Prostate Cancer Fund. At the core of each of these programs is the basic premise that America's health care system, which is geared toward serving the interests of health care providers, must be radically altered to serve the interest of the American public. These programs encourage citizens to communicate their views to lawmakers via petitions, letters, phone calls, and personal visits. Meetings with lawmakers and their aides are also conducted to discuss pertinent health issues and legislation.

Education—information regarding Alzheimer disease, diabetes, and prostate cancer treatments are disseminated to the public via letters, brochures, printed material, radio and television presentations and participation in seminars, workshops, and debates. Health care providers, media, and others interested in expanding their knowledge in these areas are provided educational information in an effort to broaden the base of research looking into new cutting edge treatments.

These goals may sound respectable, but they are not. The treatment methods Project Cure promotes are not legitimate. The organization was founded in 1979 by Robert DeBragga, a marketing executive who developed lung cancer in the late 1970s and died in 1990 [3]. It has 501(c)(4) status, which means that it does not pay income tax but contributions to it are not tax-deductible. During the 1980s, Project Cure described itself as "the first citizens' lobby group acting on behalf of cancer patients and their non-toxic treatment alternatives" and said that its primary goal was to "encourage Congress and the medical community to evaluate and employ nutritional, nontoxic cancer therapies." [4] DeBragga claimed that in 1978 he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, underwent standard treatment, but was told that because the cancer had metastasized to lymph nodes, he had about nine months to live. He then began investigating and using "nontoxic" treatments and used Project Cure to raise money and to lobby in support of his beliefs. Stories of this type are generally not trustworthy [5].

DeBragga also claimed to have counseled more than 2,000 patients and appeared on more than 250 radio and television programs. In 1987, Project Cure was said to have distributed more than eight million pieces of literature by mail [6].

In 1987, when DeBragga's cancer progressed, Attorney Michael S. Evers became Project Cure's executive director and president [7]. In the 1980s, Project Cure's mail solicitations often contained form letters that could be sent to legislators to oppose food irradiation, oppose licensing of nutritionists, and urge that the National Cancer Institute spend more of its research budget on nutritional treatments and cancer prevention. Some solicitations claimed that the recipient was sweepstakes winner could collect the prize by sending a $7 contribution or a voided check.

In 1988, The New York Times noted that the solicitations had been distributed by Watson & Hughey and that several state attorneys general had taken legal action against the company, Project Cure (d/b/a/ Center for Alternative Cancer Research), and six other nonprofit organizations [8]. Some of Project Cure's solicitations claimed that money received from recipients would "help our research programs to find a cure for cancer." The Missouri Attorney General charged that this was misleading because Project Cure (d/b/a/ Center for Alternative Cancer Research did not have a laboratory and did not conduct research. The Missouri suit also charged that Project Cure had misapplied funds by making purchases unrelated to its expressed purpose of funding cancer research [9]. In 1991, the Associated Press reported that settlements had been reached with 12 states: Missouri and Texas Missouri separately, and a joint $2.1 million settlement with the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington [10].

The California Attorney General reported that in 1998 and 1999, only about 13% of Project Cure's funds had been used for charitable purposes [11].

Michael Evers is the adopted son of H. Ray Evers, M.D., who is considered to be the "father" of chelation therapy, which I regard as one of the serious forms of quackery [12]. In 1985, Michael founded the Health Alternatives Legal Foundation (HALF), which described itself as a nonprofit public interest law center whose purposes included defending "alternative" health care practitioners and initiating antitrust litigation challenging medical practice laws [13]. HALF published a few newsletters and became involved in a few lawsuits but became quiescent after Michael took over Project Cure. Michael now identifies himself as Project Cure's president. His annual salary has risen from $132,000 in 1998 to $192,000 in 2010.

A Recent Investigation

In June 2013, the Tampa Bay Times placed Project Cure as #15 in its list of the 50 worst charities in America. The ranking was based on the the total amount paid to commercial fundraisers during the past ten years [14].

A few days later, a reporter from the Bradenton Herald looked through a window at Project Cure's listed address at 4920 Lena Road and took the photo to the right photo with his cell phone camera. The things he saw included a mattress and box spring leaning against a wall, an old chandelier on the ground, and Christmas tree bulbs on a shelf, but no office furniture [15].

 

The Bottom Line

Florida-based Project Cure has been promoting questionable methods since its inception. It solicitations have suggested that contributions will be used in the fight against cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and other major health problems. However, its financial reports indicates that (a) it does not sponsor research, (b) its "educational" programs are unreliable, and (c) most of the money it collects winds up in the hands of professional fundraisers.

References

  1. Annual fund drive voluntary reply form. National Diabetes Fund, Aug 2008.
  2. Figures obtained from Charity Navigator Web site, Aug 31, 2008.
  3. Robert DeBragga, 50, A marketing executive. Obituary, New York Times, Oct 12, 1990.
  4. Gelband H and others. Unconventional cancer treatments. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.
  5. Barrett S, Herbert V. Questionable cancer treatments. Quackwatch, Oct 24, 2007.
  6. An AMA report on Project CURE. Townsend Letter for Doctors, Sept 1985, pp 230,232.
  7. Project Cure (booklet). Washington, DC: Project CURE, 1988.
  8. Teltsch K. Sweepstakes that yield little for charity. New York Times, Nov 26, 1988.
  9. First amended petition. State of Missouri ex rel. vs Pacific West Cancer Fund, Robert R. Stone, Jr., Watson & Hughey Company, Jerry C. Watson, Byron C. Hughey, Cancer Fund of America, Inc., Foxhall Corporation d/b/a Social Security Protection Bureau, Walker Cancer Research Institute, American Heart Disease Prevention Foundation, Inc., and Project Cure, d/b/a/ Center for Alternative Cancer Research. Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri at Kansas City, Case No. CV88-27127, Filed 1/13/89.
  10. 10 states to benefit from $2.1 million charity-fraud settlement. Associated Press, Jan 12, 1991.
  11. Attorney General's summary of results of charitable solicitations by commercial fundraisers. California Department of Justice, December 1999 and March 2001.
  12. Green S. Chelation therapy: Unproven claims and unsound theories. Quackwatch, July 24, 2007.
  13. HALF can do more. Brochure distributed in 1986.
  14. Hundley K, Taggert K. America's worst charities rake in nearly $1 billion for corporate fundraisers. Tampa Bay Times, June 8, 2013.
  15. Schelle C. East Manatee's Project Cure ranks as No. 15 worst U.S. charity. Bradenton Herald, June 12, 2013.

This article was revised on June 16, 2013..