NPR/ProPublica follow Red Cross money, and can’t find it

There may be no more sacred cow in the United States than the American Red Cross, but it’s got a disaster of its own in the wake of an NPR/ProPublica investigation that showed the Red Cross is challenged to explain where half-a-billion dollars in donations to Haiti earthquake relief went.

The charity’s own documents, however, give some insight: Much of the money never reached people in need.

The Red Cross gave much of the money to other groups to do the hands-on work, resulting in additional fees.

First the Red Cross took a customary administrative cut, then the charities that received the money took their own fees. And then, according to the Red Cross’ records, the charity took out an additional amount to pay for what it calls the “program costs incurred in managing” these third-party projects.

On its website, the Red Cross provides a response, showing what percentage of money was spent and how many people were helped, but it doesn’t break it down to specifics.

At a news conference in Haiti yesterday, Walker Dauphin of the Red Cross criticized the story for making “misleading allegations.” He claimed the Red Cross provided more than 100 projects.

It didn’t go well, ProPublic reports:

… Haiti’s most prominent newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, wrote that Dauphin was merely “retracing the broad strokes of the interventions and expenses … while avoiding going into detail.” The paper ran the story on its front page under the headline, “When the Red Cross drowns the fish,” a reference to sidestepping a touchy subject.

Jean-Max Bellerive, who was prime minister of Haiti when the earthquake hit, also publicly criticized the American Red Cross, telling Le Nouvelliste that the Haitian government must “take legal actions to demand accountability.”

In a letter to congressional leaders, Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan has called for a congressional investigation into the Red Cross.

“Like millions of Americans, my wife Mary and I have always been big supporters of the Red Cross. In fact, Mary worked for them organizing blood drives. Throughout its long history, the Red Cross has provided help and comfort to millions of people here in America and throughout the world, and those who give to these efforts have always done so with confidence that their money would be used wisely and managed carefully to assist those in desperate need,” the letter went on to say. “However, the allegations of waste and mismanagement in Haiti are extremely disturbing, and I believe the Red Cross should be accorded the opportunity to tell their side of the story to Congress and the public.”

This isn’t the first time NPR/ProPublica has clashed with the Red Cross. It had earlier reported that the organization had deployed its forces for public relations events in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It said the Red Cross was more interested in looking good for local politicians than in helping the hurricane’s victims.

A Reddit AMA on the latest investigation is underway now.