The State Attorney-General's office in Connecticut, where the American Save the Children is based, confirmed it is looking into complaints that the charity misled donors in fund-raising promotion campaigns as to how much of its income is actually spent on helping children.
The probe is limited to Save the Children's activities within the US, most notably on Native American reservations in Arizona. Problems in those programmes, as well as the issue of misrepresentation to donors, were highlighted in an ABC television expose this week.
"We received several inquiries from a number of quarters," Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney-General, told the Independent. "We have begun an investigative effort focusing on the veracity of representations that are given to contributors about how the money is used." If the probe finds cause for complaint against the charity, it will be obliged to reach an agreement to change its practices or be forced to do so by the courts.
There are Save the Children charities operating in 20 countries around the world, sharing the name and logo and all belonging to the International Save the Children Alliance in Geneva. But the British Save the Children, whose patron is the Princess Royal, has no relationship with the day- to-day running of the foreign-based arms of the charity, said a spokesman in London.
The Connecticut investigation is expected to focus in particular on a pie chart used in now discontinued fund-raising advertisements for Save the Children, purportedly showing the proportions of money spent on programmes and other administrative costs. Questions have also been raised about claims made by the charity that money donated by sponsors will be channelled to specific children. Ten years ago the charity agreed to stop promising to tie sponsors to individual cases, Mr Blumenthal said.
The President of Save the Children in America, Charles McCormick, conceded to ABC that the charity had not met all of its goals. "We have a small group of programmes that have not worked up to our expectations," he said. "We have been working on cleaning those programmes up".