(Prime Time Crime exclusive Jan. 12, 2005)

Charities not always what they portray 

By Leo Knight

The world has responded to the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia with an outpouring of generosity not seen since 9/11. 

The National Post on Saturday ran a story identifying one of the Tamil fundraising organizations out of Toronto as linked to the terrorist group known as the Tamil Tigers or the LTTE. How is it possible, one might ask, that a fundraising group linked to terrorism in this day and age, can solicit funds in the open in Canada?

In the days after what is clearly one of the worst disasters in the modern era, the media were quick to respond to what they were seeing and offered up names and numbers of organizations who were actively soliciting donations to help.

Of the 17 organizations listed in most of the stories by the mainstream media, five were not on the list of Canadian Registered Charities and one other was listed, but had no recorded activity in the last reportable year, 2003.

So, what gives? Or, perhaps more accurately, who should we give to when a disaster occurs?

The problem, as described by former Liberal MP John Bryden, in a March 2002 discussion about charities using their money to lobby governments, is the evolution of charities being run initially by philanthropic volunteers to professional money managers making huge salaries. 

How big? The CEO of the United Way of America, Betty S. Beene, last year received $1,537,837. 

Now that is some serious money. And speaking of the United Way and the fundraising efforts post 9/11, it is interesting to note the United Way has wound down its September 11 fund and issued its final report. 

Out of the rubble of Ground Zero, the United Way raised $534 million. They have accounted for a little under $528 million. Okay, where is the other six or so million dollars?

But, or perhaps, more interestingly, let’s look at where we know the money went. $17,195,466 was given to other area United Way organizations, muddying the waters. So, with the missing money that was not distributed, about $24 million went somewhere within the United Way labyrinth.

The list of who did get money reads like a who’s who of New York special interest groups. 

The Asian Women in Business got $694,310. The Metropolitan Council for Jewish Poverty got $43,000. Incredibly, the Islamic Circle of North American Relief got $168,100. Gay Men’s Health Crisis was on the list at $18,500.  Cross Cultural Solutions and the Congress of Racial Equality logged in at $457,060 and $230,480 respectively.

But the big winner was Safe Horizon, an organization with 900 employees, which received a whopping $132,415,257. According to their website, they are “the largest provider of domestic violence services in the country (USA) and domestic violence emergency shelters in New York City.” 

A press release on the site in September, 2004, three years after the events which gave them the biggest windfall in their existence, their press release was about a conference entitled: “Ending domestic violence: A call to men: Becoming part of the solution.” 

Want to know what the New York Fire Department, which lost over 200 fire fighters that awful day, got from the September 11 fund?   $235,000. Not enough to cover the cost of the funerals for their dead members and slightly less than the Hispanic Federation got which logged in at $239,328.

I doubt that the people who felt they needed to do something as they watched the plane fly into the WTC on that terrible morning wanted their donation to support the Arab American Family Support Centre ($60,000) or Lawyers Alliance for New York ($138,000).

I’m not saying don’t give. I am saying do what you feel is right, but do it with your eyes wide open.



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