‘Breaking Bad’ helped bad charity

UPDATE, Aug. 22, 2013: In response to an earlier version of this story, AMC has removed the link to the National Cancer Coalition from savewalterwhite.com.

"Breaking Bad" addicts just lost their chance to save Walter White from lung cancer.

For years, AMC ran a website that allowed fans to give money to a cancer charity on behalf of the terminal lead character. The cable station now has turned off the donate button.

The decision was made after AMC officials learned they had been directing tens of thousands of dollars to a charity ranked as one of the nation’s 50 worst by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting. The rankings are based on the amount of money charities spend on outside fundraisers.

AMC removed a link from savewalterwhite.com that had directed people to the National Cancer Coalition. AMC officials said they were examining the appropriateness of steering people to the charity, which appeared at No. 21 on the Times/CIR list. No word yet on whether a new charity will be featured on the site.

In the second season of AMC’S “Breaking Bad,” when Walt’s son learns that his father has been diagnosed with lung cancer, he creates a website to help raise money for his dad’s treatments. Walt’s attorney then advises him that he should use the website to launder the money he is making as a drug dealer.

At the same time the fake website was featured on the show, AMC launched an actual website: www.savewalterwhite.com. CIR and the Times learned about the site from the sleuthing of Rob Davis, a freelance reporter in San Diego.

A spokeswoman for AMC could not explain how the network chose the cancer charity as the recipient of fans’ good will. According to AMC’s website, savewalterwhite.com brought more than $125,000 in donations to National Cancer Coalition in Raleigh, N.C., between the time the website was set up in 2009 and October 2012.

No one seems to have asked what the charity does with its money.

The National Cancer Coalition’s stated mission is to help patients and families affected by cancer and other serious diseases. It is one of the nation's biggest charities, with annual revenue of more than $140 million. 

Most of that reported revenue is not cash, but donated medicine and medical supplies. In 2011, the charity claimed it was donating drugs for a vaccination program in Ghana, a claim the organization managing the program denied.

Although the charity officials claimed in a Q&A posted on AMC’s website that it gives money to organizations that help cancer patients pay for things like gasoline, the Times/CIR investigation found that about 1 percent of all the cash raised by solicitors for the charity over the past decade was given to organizations or to patients.

The National Cancer Coalition said there is no formal relationship between the charity and AMC or “Breaking Bad.” A spokesman said the charity is proud of its work and does not believe it should be included on the list of the worst charities.

The full series on America’s Worst Charities is available here.

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