It’s been nearly three months since the star-studded telethon raised an estimated $150 million for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. But the controversy over the disbursement of those funds (which prompted a public spat between phone-bank organizer George Clooney and celebrity-baiter Bill O’Reilly) shows no signs of waning. Here’s the bottom line.
THE CHARGE The stars and United Way (which oversees the telethon’s September 11th Fund) misled donors by saying 100 percent of monies raised would go to victims’ families. THE LOWDOWN ”While United Way waived their administrative costs,” says Daniel Borochoff, prez of the American Institute of Philanthropy, ”they gave money to organizations that have their own overhead costs.” But paying for some overhead is unavoidable, says fund rep Jeanine Moss. ”If you waited for donated space or volunteers to deliver service, disbursement would take even longer.” And New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer (who threatened legal action against the Red Cross for ignoring donor intent post-9/ll) gives the fund a clean bill of health.
THE CHARGE The fund has been too slow to give out money. THE LOWDOWN At press time, only 15 percent of the fund’s overall $340 million has been disbursed. But Spitzer spokesman Scott Brown says percentages can be misleading when victims have short- and long-term needs: ”We want people to get every dime they deserve, but we don’t want money thrown at people without any coherent plan.” An official registry with confirmed victims was only released Nov. 16, and scores of charities are now setting up a central database and a uniform application for the families (who may also receive employee pensions and federal and state funds).
THE CHARGE Publicity-hungry stars don’t care how the money is spent. THE LOWDOWN Not so, insists Clooney rep Stan Rosenfield; the fund updates Clooney and others weekly. ”It’s our responsibility to keep them informed,” Moss says, ”because most stars have neither the knowledge nor time to monitor the charity.” Adds Rosenfield: ”The only follow-up that’s going to satisfy O’Reilly is for George and others to come on his show. This is about O’Reilly’s ratings and his book.” O’Reilly counters: ”Those arguments are so foolish it makes you shake. If celebrities would use their power to put pressure on the charities, they’d be better organized.”