Livestrong after Lance

Critics were already accusing Armstrong of using his charity as a so-called "cancer shield" to deflect persistent doping allegations. Birdsong also felt there were frivolous expenses that did more to promote Armstrong -- at events like the Tour de France -- than fight cancer.

"They sent, like, five staff members for 21-plus days to France to just follow him around -- and tweet about it," he said. "And they had this really big party on the Champs-Elysees [on] the final day of the tour. How is this effective?"

His biggest objection came when Livestrong sold the use of its name in 2008 for $2.5 million. If you didn't know better, you might think livestrong.org, the charity, runs livestrong.com -- but a media company owns this for-profit website that advertises health and fitness products.

"It's unheard of -- I've never heard of anything like that," said Mark Zimbelman, an accounting professor at Brigham Young University who's looked into Livestrong's practices.

"It's just questionable, to sell their name, and allow somebody to take a website and make money doing other things," Zimbelman said. "Just that boundary is so gray."

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When asked by Attkisson if she thought people might be confused if they Google "Livestrong" and end up on the for-profit website, McLane replied, "There's possibly always room for improvement, but our goal is to avoid any confusion."

And then there's the matter of how much money directly helps cancer survivors.

According to McLane, 82 cents of every dollar raised by the Livestrong Foundation is invested in programs, services and grants that support people struggling with cancer.

That $0.82 mark wins Livestrong a high rating among charities.

But that's using a common charity accounting method that counts everything from marketing costs to executive salaries, lobbying, and legal fees as what's called "program services."

"Do you consider 'executive salaries' programs that help cancer survivors?" asked Attkisson.

"I think the breakdown is tough to calibrate," McLane said.

"Is lobbying fees and legal fees, is that part of program services directly helping cancer patients, in your opinion?" asked Attkisson.

"I think advocacy is enormously important for the cancer community," replied McLane.

Prior to Armstrong's doping admission, the charity's 2011 IRS tax forms show it put $13 million in the bank in a rainy-day fund, and reported $103 million in cash and assets. That's an unusually large amount, charity experts say, when Livestrong spent $5.2 million -- that's 11 cents on the dollar -- for grants to help cancer survivors.

"That's a pretty small percentage of the program," said Attkisson.

McLane responded, "Grants aren't the only thing that the foundation invests in, obviously. We have 104 people here in Austin, Texas, many of whom are social workers, policy experts, people who work with survivors every single day."

In late May came the news that Nike, a key sponsor, was cutting its ties with the charity.

Livestrong officials responded, saying the charity is "deeply grateful" to Nike and remains in "sound fiscal health."

But however it adds up, Michael Birdsong wants a refund.

"I gave you this money, and worked for you and asked other people for this money in good faith," he said. "We were suckers. We got taken. That's the way sometimes we feel about it."

McLane acknowledged, "There is a small, tiny percentage of people who have asked for their money back. We invest the funds that donors entrust to us into programs and services that help survivors get access to care and a better quality of life. And we don't pull those investments out."

So, Attkisson asked, they're not getting their money back?

"We do not offer refunds," McLane replied, "just like most non-profits."

EDITOR'S NOTE: In an email yesterday, Livestrong again stated that Michael Birdsong was -- in their words -- "very familiar with the foundation's work and purpose," and cited blogs he'd written praising the organization. For his part, Mr. Birdsong says he DID believe in Livestrong -- that is, until he became disillusioned with the charity's practices.


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