Commentary: More Red Cross Criticism

When you give to a charity, you have to expect that some of the money will be used for overhead, like telephones, but you assume most of it will go to the people you're trying to help.

You've heard about the Red Cross scandal after Sept.11. Most of the hundreds of millions of dollars raised for terrorism victims was not getting to the victims. Media complaints and a congressional outcry contributed to Red Cross head Bernadine Healey's decision to resign.

But at least I can understand their thinking. Since so much had already been raised for Sept. 11 victims. It's understandable to try to save some money for future tragedies.

But did you hear what San Diego's Red Cross Chapter did after a fire last January?

No Excuses

A wildfire in Alpine, just east of San Diego, destroyed homes, killed horses that panicked and ran into the fire, and injured one fireman. The Red Cross appealed for funds, and raised $400,000 for disaster relief. But months after the fire, little money had gone to victims.

Some fire victims received a few hundred dollars, but they say when they asked where the rest of the money was going, they couldn't get straight answers from the Red Cross. So they complained to County Supervisor Diane Jacob.

"The fire victims in Alpine feel they've been used," said Jacob, who started demanding answers from the Red Cross.

This led to publicity, and only then did the San Diego Red Cross tell the public the truth: Of the more than $400,000 raised, only $159,000 — less than half — was spent on the relief effort.

Even worse, of the $159,000 that was to support the victims, $105,000 went to general chapter expenses and overhead, like upgrading the office phone system and Red Cross vehicles.

"I don't want to make excuses," said the San Diego chapter's chairman, Charles Duddles. "I just want to apologize for it. I think that's the proper thing to do."

Duddles, who wouldn't talk to us, wrote a letter saying that more than $220,000 has now gone to the victims. He also said his chapter had made changes to improve procedures.

A Fair Salary?

San Diego Red Cross President Dodie Rotherham wouldn't talk to 20/20 either, but she did talk to Mark Matthews, who works for ABCNEWS' San Diego affiliate. He asked her about her salary. She said she makes $203,000 in salary, and more than $300,000 with incentives. That's more than any other Red Cross chapter CEO in America makes.

Asked if her salary is perhaps a little bit more than fair, she answered, "I think I'm paid a fair salary, yes."

Rotherham also said, "I think that the chapter that we have here in San Diego is a very large, very effective, well-run chapter."

Really? It's a well-run chapter when they pay themselves much more than they give disaster victims? I think the victims of the Alpine fire would say: Give me a break!

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