"Investigating Private Companies and Nonprofits"


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Chris Roush presents "Investigating Private Companies and Nonprofits" at the free business journalism workshop, "Covering Business on Tribal Lands," hosted by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism and the Native American Journalists Association.

For more information about free training for business journalists, please visit businessjournalism.org.

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"Investigating Private Companies and Nonprofits"

  1. 1. Investigating Private Companies and Nonprofits July 13, 2011 Chris Roush [email_address]
  2. 2. Public vs. Private <ul><li>Business reporters spend a lot of time writing stories about publicly traded companies who file documents with the SEC </li></ul><ul><li>Makes it easier to cover business, because lots of information is disclosed. </li></ul><ul><li>Does it make reporters lazy? In some cases, I would argue yes. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Private companies <ul><li>Small companies are the backbone of local economies. </li></ul><ul><li>22.9 million, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. </li></ul><ul><li>Small businesses provide 75 percent of the net new jobs added to the economy, and represent 99.7 percent of all employers. </li></ul><ul><li>More than half of the private work force is employed by a small business, which accounted for 52 percent of the private-sector output. </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>Can sometimes be harder to find information about private companies. </li></ul><ul><li>If you look hard enough though, you’ll often find what you’re looking for. </li></ul><ul><li>Many private companies will disclose the information somewhere, to someone. </li></ul>Private companies
  5. 5. <ul><li>Don’t be afraid to ask. </li></ul><ul><li>When someone tells you no, keep digging. </li></ul>Private companies
  6. 6. Basic places to look
  7. 7. The beauty of checking up <ul><li>A developer came to Nashville </li></ul><ul><li>and proposed an amusement park. </li></ul><ul><li>Annie Johnson of the Nashville </li></ul><ul><li>Business Journal looked into his </li></ul><ul><li>background. </li></ul><ul><li>She found a trail of unpaid bills, bounced checks, evictions, troubled business associates and unfulfilled plans. </li></ul><ul><li>She got to write: “In a 2006 letter related to the purchase of the San Diego property, Peterson said he received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. (Harvard’s MBA Registrar has no record that Peterson attended the school.)” </li></ul>
  8. 8. Where to begin: State records <ul><li>The Department of the Secretary of State’s office has records on every business incorporated in Florida: http://www.sunbiz.org/ </li></ul><ul><li>Here you can search by company name, new corporations or by registered agent. </li></ul>
  9. 9. What this will show you <ul><li>Incorporation records give you a listing of business officers, or executives. </li></ul><ul><li>It will also give you a mailing address and a phone number. </li></ul><ul><li>Has its license expired? If it has, that could be a sign of financial trouble. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Secretary of State records <ul><li>You can also search Department of Secretary of State records to get similar information for other operations. </li></ul><ul><li>These include nonprofit entities, limited liability corporations, such as law firms, and limited partnerships. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Occupational Licensing Boards <ul><li>There are regulatory boards that govern dozens of industries in Florida. </li></ul><ul><li>Department of Business and Professional Regulation licenses 1 in 16 Floridians, ranging from electricians to real estate agents, from cosmetologists to professional boxers. http://www.state.fl.us/dbpr/index.shtml </li></ul><ul><li>Other regulated areas include hotels, restaurants, alcohol and tobacco retailers, condominiums and mobile home parks . </li></ul>
  12. 12. Licensing board examples <ul><li>In April, the Monterey County Weekly paper in California wrote about how the state Contractors State License Board was finding and fining unlicensed contractors in the county. </li></ul><ul><li>On the same day, across the country in Massachusetts, the Falls River Herald wrote about the local liquor licensing board approving two new restaurants. </li></ul>
  13. 13. County records <ul><li>Before any sole proprietorship or partnership does business in North Carolina under an assumed name, the business name must be registered. </li></ul><ul><li>An assumed name is any name other than the real name of the owner or owners of the business. </li></ul><ul><li>Business names or partnerships must be filed with the Register of Deeds Office in the county or counties where it does business. </li></ul>
  14. 14. National Indian Gaming Commission <ul><li>Headquartered in Washington. www.nigc.gov </li></ul><ul><li>Regional offices in Portland, Sacramento, St. Paul, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. </li></ul><ul><li>Regulates gaming on Indian lands. </li></ul><ul><li>States also have gaming commissions. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.gambling-law-us.com/Useful-Sites/State-Gambling-Agencies.htm </li></ul>
  15. 15. Gaming stories <ul><li>“ Arizona's 22 Indian casinos had their best three months in four years as the improving economy made spending money on entertainment an option again for more consumers. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The casinos reported their combined revenue, or net win, increased 6 percent in the first quarter of this year, marking the third-straight quarterly increase after a string of declines.” </li></ul><ul><li>Data came from Arizona Department of Gaming. </li></ul>
  16. 16. The WARN Act <ul><li>Employers who are laying off or firing workers are required to disclose such moves 60 days before they do it. </li></ul><ul><li>This document is filed with the Department of Commerce division of employment and training (State Dislocated Worker Unit). </li></ul><ul><li>Regularly check for WARN Act filings. </li></ul>
  17. 17. The WARN Act <ul><li>http://www.floridajobs.org/react/warn_notice.htm . </li></ul><ul><li>In May, Cordis in Miami laid off 265 workers. </li></ul><ul><li>Tropicana in Bradenton laid off 167 workers. </li></ul>
  18. 18. The WARN Act <ul><li>An employer must give notice if a plant will be shut down, and the shutdown will result in an employment loss for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period. </li></ul><ul><li>An employer must give notice if there is to be a mass layoff which does not result from a plant closing, but which will result in an employment loss at the site during any 30-day period for 500 or more employees, or for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33 percent of the employer's active work force. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Safety and Health <ul><li>Worker complaints about unsafe or unhealthy working conditions are made in writing to the Occupational Safety and Health Division. </li></ul><ul><li>The division conducts investigations of complaints made by workers, investigations of work-related accidents and deaths, inspections of randomly picked firms, and follow-up inspections of firms previously cited for OSHA violations. </li></ul>
  20. 20. Workplace injuries <ul><li>The Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspects workplace deaths and injuries: http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.html </li></ul><ul><li>This site allows you to look at accident-investigation reports and inspection reports for companies by industry. </li></ul><ul><li>Typed in “casino” and found 558 reports. </li></ul><ul><li>Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City, Ore., fined $11,400 for “serious” accident. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Workplace injuries <ul><li>The Fort Myers News-Press reported in April about an OSHA investigation into the drowning of a worker at a country club. </li></ul><ul><li>The Toledo Blade reported in April that a construction company in Ohio was fined $26,100 for failing to prevent worker-safety hazards. </li></ul>
  22. 22. My favorites
  23. 23. UCC Records <ul><li>Who owes money to whom, and how much? </li></ul><ul><li>These documents are available through the Department of State’s office in Florida: http://www.sunbiz.org/ </li></ul><ul><li>Navajo Nation also has its own UCC system: http://www.navajobusiness.com/doingBusiness/Registration/additionalServ.htm </li></ul>
  24. 24. UCC Records <ul><li>A UCC filing occurs when one business sells something to another business on credit. The business that sold the tractor to the farmer, for example, filed a UCC form showing that the tractor is collateral for the loan. </li></ul><ul><li>If the business that purchased the tractor fails to pay the loan, the other business can repossess the tractor. UCC forms can show whether a business is borrowing a lot of money to make purchases. </li></ul><ul><li>This could be a sign that the company plans to expand its operations. </li></ul>
  25. 25. UCC Records <ul><li>When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigated a church that wanted to redevelop a shopping center, it looked at its UCC filings and discovered that banks and other lenders had given it seven loans despite the fact that it had fallen behind in paying its taxes and other debts. </li></ul><ul><li>When USA Today researched former WorldCom leader Bernie Ebbers, it pored through UCC filings around the country to get a detailed list of everything he’d invested on or purchased in the past decade. That helped show the reader where the money he’d made from WorldCom had gone. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Nonprofit organizations <ul><li>Even though they’re not in operation to make money, you can still find out financial information. </li></ul><ul><li>www.guidestar.com is a website with information about nonprofit organizations across the country. </li></ul><ul><li>Found the financial information for 130 reservations or reservation organizations. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Reservation nonprofits <ul><li>American Indian College Fund (Denver) had revenue of $6.1 million, expenses of $13.2 million in 2010. </li></ul><ul><li>Indian Legal Assistance Program (St. Paul) had revenue of $737,000 in 2010 and expenses of $834,000. </li></ul><ul><li>Wounded Knee District School (South Dakota) had revenue of $2.39 million and expenses of $2.38 million. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Nonprofit organizations <ul><li>Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service. </li></ul><ul><li>Form 990 is required to be filed by tax-exempt organizations with more than $100,000 in annual receipts or total assets of at least $250,000. Form 990-EZ must be filed by smaller organizations, with at least $25,000 in annual receipts and total assets of less than $250,000. </li></ul><ul><li>The forms are public documents that reveal income, expenses, assets and liabilities; expenditures by program category; program accomplishments; names of officers, directors and key employees; compensation paid to officers, directors and key employees. </li></ul><ul><li>Most religious organizations are not required to file Form 990. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Nonprofit resources <ul><li>http://www.grantsmart.org -- A searchable database for Form 990 filings with the Internal Revenue Service for more than 60,000 foundations. Can search by name, location or assets. More than one year may be available. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.charitynavigator.org -- Has independent evaluations of more than 2,500 charities. Database can be searched by category, region or keyword. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Nonprofit resources <ul><li>http://www.give.org -- The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance maintains reports on nationally soliciting charitable organizations that are the subject of donor inquiries. These reports include an evaluation of the subject charity in relation to the voluntary BBB charity standards . </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.internet-prospector.org/charities.htm -- State charities databases on the Web. Some states do not have an online search for charity information, while others allow you to search by name or word. </li></ul>
  31. 31. Small Business Administration <ul><li>Federal agency created to help small business owners. </li></ul><ul><li>Virtually every small business is private. </li></ul><ul><li>Millions of companies registered with SBA to receive benefits or to qualify for contracts and business. </li></ul>
  32. 32. Small Business Administration <ul><li>http://dsbs.sba.gov/dsbs/search/dsp_dsbs.cfm </li></ul><ul><li>Searched for Native American-owned businesses and found 7,302. </li></ul><ul><li>Refined search to Maricopa County in Arizona and got 121 businesses. </li></ul>
  33. 33. Small Business Administration <ul><li>Yellow Feather Inc. in Glendale does heavy construction and site preparation. Owner is Jeff Levi. </li></ul><ul><li>Arizona Boiler Co. in Peoria is owned by Terry Melot. It does plumbing, heating and air conditioning. </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes these filings will list revenue and major clients. </li></ul>
  34. 34. Credit unions <ul><li>Many cities have dozens of credit unions. Yet many newspapers don’t write stories about them. </li></ul><ul><li>Credit union financial information is available online from the National Credit Union Administration. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.ncua.gov/ Click on “Credit Union Data” on the left-hand menu to find specific information about any credit union. </li></ul>
  35. 35. Credit unions <ul><li>White Earth Reservation Credit Union is based in Mahnomen, Minn. </li></ul><ul><li>Has assets of $1.5 million. </li></ul><ul><li>Had fewer than 1,400 members. </li></ul><ul><li>Two branches. Cash on hand on March 31 was $52,600. </li></ul>Is there a story here?
  36. 36. Banks <ul><li>Regulated by state and federal agencies. </li></ul><ul><li>Data on bank branches -- including private banks -- such as market share are available online. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.fdic.gov . Go here and click on “Bank Data” to get market share info. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www3.fdic.gov/idasp// . Find any bank holding company or location insured by the FDIC. Search results will tell you the bank’s total deposits and assets, as well as financial performance . </li></ul>
  37. 37. Banks <ul><li>Grand Bank & Trust has one location in West Palm Beach, and locations in Jupiter, Lake Worth and Palm Beach Gardens. </li></ul><ul><li>They range in deposits from $1.9 million to $87.8 million, but only one over $33 million in deposits. </li></ul><ul><li>Where is that one branch located? Are the branches with small deposit amounts new locations, or are they candidates to be closed in the future? </li></ul>
  38. 38. Random websites
  39. 39. Political campaign contributions <ul><li>How much did Carrie Underwood, Muscogee Creek Nation, give to certain local political campaigns? http://www.followthemoney.org/ </li></ul><ul><li>What about federal campaigns? http://www.tray.com/cgi-win/indexhtml.exe?MBF=NAME </li></ul><ul><li>The last database goes back to 1980. Can search company names as well. </li></ul>
  40. 40. Lobbying <ul><li>Does the company have a lobbyist, and how much is it paying the lobbyist? http://www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists/index.asp </li></ul><ul><li>Confederated Trials/Chehails Reservation spent $60,000 in 2006. </li></ul><ul><li>Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation spent $20,000 in 2000. </li></ul><ul><li>Oglala Sioux/Pine Ridge Reservation spent $20,000 in 2008 and $10,000 in 2009. </li></ul>
  41. 41. Hospital financial information <ul><li>http://www.ahd.com/freesearch.php3 </li></ul><ul><li>There are 17 Indian hospitals for which they have financial information, including Cherokee Indian Hospital in Cherokee, N.C., and Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service in Aberdeen, S.C. </li></ul><ul><li>This is a subscriber site. </li></ul>
  42. 42. Patents and Trademarks <ul><li>http://patents.uspto.gov/ </li></ul><ul><li>Type in a company’s name and see what it is getting patents for. </li></ul><ul><li>Found a patent for a cotton plant named the “930 B Pima” that was developed on the Gila River Pima Indian Reservation in Sacaton, Ariz. </li></ul><ul><li>Information in the patent application goes a long way in explaining what a business does. </li></ul>
  43. 43. The EPA <ul><li>http://www.epa.gov -- Click on the docket to the left on the home page to see Federal Register notices, support documents and public comments for regulations the agency publishes and various non-regulatory activities. </li></ul><ul><li>Also a nice search engine of environmental information available by ZIP Code, which lists EPA-regulated businesses. </li></ul>
  44. 44. Toxic Waste <ul><li>http://d1.rtknet.org/tri/ -- The Toxic Release Inventory is a database of information about releases and transfers of toxic chemicals from manufacturing facilities. </li></ul><ul><li>Facilities must report their releases of a toxic chemical if they fulfill four criteria. This can be searched by geographic regions as well as by facility, parent company and industry. </li></ul>
  45. 45. Activists <ul><li>http://activistcash.com/ -- Profiles anti-consumer activist groups, along with information about the sources of their exorbitant funding. </li></ul><ul><li>Breaks them up among activist groups, foundations, celebrities and major individual players in the activist community. </li></ul>
  46. 46. Amusement parks <ul><li>http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/amuse.pdf -- This file lists who regulates amusement park rides on a state-by-state basis. </li></ul>
  47. 47. EEOC <ul><li>http://www.eeoc.gov -- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates allegations against businesses of unfair employment practices or discrimination. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Litigation” section on the left side of the page has a link to a monthly report on all of the actions taken by the agency. </li></ul>
  48. 48. Consumer advocates <ul><li>http://www.nasuca.org -- National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, which represents the interest of consumers before state and federal agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia. </li></ul><ul><li>Nice list of its testimony and filings. </li></ul>
  49. 49. Consumer products <ul><li>http://www.planetfeedback.com/ -- Search for complaints or compliments about any product and any company at this site. </li></ul><ul><li>If you’re writing about consumer-products companies, the postings here might provide some story ideas. </li></ul>
  50. 50. One last thought <ul><li>Good business writers are hard to find. </li></ul><ul><li>Make a name for yourself writing business stories, and your career will take off. </li></ul><ul><li>A knowledge of how to write business stories about private companies can be applied to any beat at a newspaper or any media outlet. </li></ul>