Where Are Your Katrina Donations Going?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Where Are Your Katrina Donations Going?

In recent days, commentators on major broadcast and cable TV networks seem to have begun steering Katrina donors toward one of two charities -- the American Red Cross (good) and the Salvation Army (not so good -- their employment policies discriminate against gay people).

But only a few days after Katrina hit the Gulf coast states, a number of charities were getting "face time" on the TV screen. For example, CNN's "Larry King Show" was promoting a variety of charities, some of which were quite undeserving of this free exposure.

It seems unlikely that CNN vetted its initial list of charities with experts who analyze the actual work of charitable or philanthropic organizations. "Operation Blessing," the charity arm of Pat Robertson's televangelistic empire, was among the charities whose names were posted periodically on the TV screen. Another was Feed the Children (FTC), an Oklahoma City-based charitable ministry. According to CharityWatch.org, FTC is
an [American Institute for Philanthropy] F-rated charity that spends only 18% of its cash budget on program services and spends 60% on direct mail and television and radio ads .... (FTC) has repeatedly declined to fulfill AIP’s request to disclose what it is actually distributing to which specific charities. Finally, in February of this year [FTC] did disclose to us in a letter the basic categories and amounts of $796 million worth of goods distributed. This letter did not cite the time frame in which the distribution occurred and omitted any information on which charities received the goods ...

... When are audited financial statements unaudited? When the accompanying audit report is fake. The fiscal 1999 and 1998 financial statements of Feed the Children (FTC), formerly Larry Jones International Ministries, Inc., distributed to AIP and state regulators contain the forged signature of Arthur Andersen .... According to FTC, its former Chief Financial Director Monty Rainwater confessed that he forged Arthur Andersen’s name on FTC’s ’98 and ’99 financial statements.
But here's my favorite disclosure from CharityWatch.org's analysis:
Nearly none of the $47.5 million in cash raised in fiscal 1998 was spent on food. FTC told AIP that this is true but that “there is a lot more to Feed the Children than feeding children.
This led me to wonder how an honest thank-you letter from FTC might begin. Perhaps ....
Dear Friend,

I am writing to thank you for your recent contribution of $100. Thanks to donations like yours, we have been able to purchase new drapes and carpet for Feed the Children's headquarters and a nice leather chair for my office. These improvements serve to remind us all that Feed the Children is about a whole lot more than just feeding children ....

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