Some Question Robertson's Katrina Charity


Sept. 9, 2005 — -- Charity and religious leaders are questioning why the Federal Emergency Management Agency designated Operation Blessing as the No. 2 charity for donations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Operation Blessing is the charity founded and still chaired by Pat Robertson, the politically well-connected television evangelist, who recently called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we've never had anything like this," Robertson told his audience. "Let's rally together and do what we can."

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government, through FEMA, issued a list of charities to which Americans should donate. On that list, Operation Blessing was only second to the American Red Cross.

Charity leaders say this FEMA recommendation is a huge boost for Robertson's charity.

"It could be worth tens of millions of dollars," said Richard Walden, president and founder of Operation USA, a non-governmental organization specializing in disaster relief.

However, as Robertson hosted his daily television show in Mississippi this week, other charity leaders were questioning why FEMA had recommended Robertson's operation and left others off the list, including Walden's Operation USA.

"I was shocked," said Walden upon seeing Robertson's charity so prominently displayed on the FEMA Web site. "It stuck out for a reason because of Pat Robertson's activities over the years."

Seven years ago, those activities led Virginia investigators to say there was evidence to prove Robertson "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements." Robertson denied the allegations. He then personally reimbursed Operation Blessing. No action was taken.

"Based on their track record, I would say that, as an individual, I would not give to Operational Blessing," admitted the Rev. Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian minister, who is the executive director of the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life.

According to its most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service, Operation Blessing gave more than half of its yearly allocation of cash donations -- $885,000 -- to the Christian Broadcasting Network, or CBN, of which Robertson is also the chairman.

"There is no accountability when you have two boards working hand in hand like this," said Henderson. "One never knows when you're contributing to Operation Blessing whether the money is really going to the hurricane victims, or whether it's going to pay for some more television time for Pat Robertson's television show."

Some charity watchdog groups have given high marks to Operation Blessing. Bill Horan, the charity's president, at first denied his charity gave any money to Robertson's television operation.

"Well, that's an absolute, total and complete distortion of the truth," Horan said. "Operation Blessing does not give 1 red cent to CBN."

When he was told of the Operation Blessing documents obtained by ABC News, which show a contribution of $885,000 to CBN, Horan called it an accounting issue.

"I'm president of a charity that's been working 22 to 24 hours a day for the last week trying to save lives down there," he said, "and I'm not going to talk any more about the issues that involve accounting."

A spokesman for Operation Blessing later told ABC News that the charity utilizes Robertson's television network as a conduit for delivering donations overseas, and that none of the money has been used for network activities.

As for FEMA, Director Michael Brown says that he does not know who decided to recommend Robertson's charity so prominently.

ABC News' David Scott and Avni Patel contributed to this report.

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