Whenever there is some global catastrophe, we break out the checkbook, sending a donation to the Red Cross. Whether it’s an earthquake in Haiti or a tsunami in Japan, many people’s natural inclination is to send money to one of world’s best-known charities.
Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast U.S. in October 2012, devastating parts of New Jersey and New York. It did damage up and down the eastern seaboard. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the total property damage amounted to $65 billion.
Americans are especially generous following natural disasters. They sent $312 million in donations to the American Red Cross after the storm. Unfortunately, the charity hasn’t been very forthcoming in how it spent that money. It seems to be stonewalling ProPublica, which has been writing about how post-Sandy money has been spent. It reports:
Just how badly does the American Red Cross want to keep secret how it raised and spent over $300 million after Hurricane Sandy? The charity has hired a fancy law firm (Gibson Dunn) to fight a public request we filed with New York state, arguing that information about its Sandy activities is a “trade secret.” The Red Cross’ “trade secret” argument has persuaded the state to redact some material, though it’s not clear yet how much since the documents haven’t yet been released.
That’s right, the Red Cross has lawyered up. I find it hard to believe that how a charity spends its money could possibly be a trade secret.
Some disasters are more personal than others, as was Sandy to those of us who live within a hundred miles or so from where the storm made landfall.
Where I live on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, the damage was mostly downed trees, damaged roofs, flooding and loss of power. In our house, we treated the lack of electricity as an adventure at first, with everybody including the dogs sleeping in one warm bed. But as the temperature dropped, the lack of hot water became a problem, and soon after, the fun factor faded. We were fortunate that my sister’s neighborhood a few towns over had underground power lines, so we decamped there for a few days for warm meals and hot showers. (Our house had no electricity for 12 days).