I’ve never been a big fan of the American Red Cross. When I was in the Army during the Vietnam War era, I saw them time and time again decide that a service member didn’t deserve compassionate leave because the family emergency involved wasn’t serious enough or his or her presence wasn’t essential. I never understood why the Red Cross and not the military made that decision, but it was a key role the ARC played and as far as I could tell they played it badly.
Now there’s a report that the organization — a public charity that has the cloak of independence and eager helpfulness about it — is claiming that some information about how it raised and spent funds on Hurricane Sandy relief are trade secrets. Huh? Seriously?
Over the years, the Red Cross has been attacked and criticized a number of times on large national fund-raising efforts. For example, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, the Red Cross set up a new separate fund called the “Liberty Fund.” it drew donations in the neighborhood of a half-billion dollars. But many in the press and public questioned the disposition of those funds and its executive director resigned in the midst of that particular scandal. Another press report summarized public concerns about the organization’s tendency to take large-scale disaster fund donations and funnel them into a general-purpose fund where they could be used with more discretion (i.e., less accountabiity).
Now the organization, faced with a public records request from truth-out.org, hired a high-priced law firm to oppose the release of public information it said its “competitors” could use against it. If the idea that a public charity has competitors strikes a sour note with you, join the parade! What they’re saying, in effect, is that if other charities found out how they raised money or decided how to spend it, they might get as good as the Red Cross and some people might choose to donate funds — for the same disasters mind you! — to “competitors.” (By the way, they didn’t identify a single so-called “competitor” in their legal response to the truthout.org request.)
I’m sorry but when any charitable organization balks at answering media queries about how they raise and spend their funds, my BS detector starts screaming. Loud.