- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

The September 11th Fund, which has collected over $300 million for terror victims, has come under withering criticism for sitting on most of the money it has collected. In response, the New York United Way, which sponsors the fund, has announced an emergency $75 million "Cash Assistance Program" to speed assistance to donors.
This is a step in the right direction, but the United Way has yet to address another serious problem. A series of grants have been made to nonprofit groups whose agendas seem to be at odds with the interests of terror victims. Much of the money was raised from ordinary Americans who responded to the "Tribute to Heroes" telethon featuring Bruce Springsteen and other stars.
Most notably, a grant of $171,000 was made to the Legal Aid Society of New York, which is providing free civil legal assistance to several INS detainees linked to the September 11 terrorist investigation. The United Way has argued that since the grant was not earmarked for assisting detainees, there is nothing wrong with it. I am sure that this distinction is one that is lost on many donors to the fund.
Even putting aside this grant, the Legal Aid Society would seem to be a curious choice to receive money from a victims' fund. The group is highly political and was often at odds with Rudy Giuliani while he was mayor. The Legal Aid Society opposed the landmark victims' rights initiative in New York state, known as Jenna's Law. Named for a nursing student who was stabbed to death by a three-time parolee, the law requires violent felons to serve 85 percent of their sentences. The group also opposed legislation to allow relatives and friends of murder victims to make statements in court at the time of sentencing.
The September 11th Fund has also provided a whopping $450,000 to something called the New York Immigration Coalition. The coalition opposed modest Clinton administration efforts to stop immigration document fraud following the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, including an expanded review of travel documents for foreign passengers flying into the United States and stepped-up efforts to cut down on fraudulent passports.
And if that is not bad enough, another grantee, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, has just filed suit, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups, to force the Justice Department to identify the detainees being held as a result of the terror investigation. About the release of names, Attorney General John Ashcroft has said, "We might as well mail this list to the Osama bin Laden al Qaeda network as to release it." Polls show that the public overwhelmingly supports President Bush's get-tough policy toward terrorism. I am sure that among the most fervent supporters of these policies are the families of terror victims, on whose behalf the funds were collected.
The Asian American group received the funds, some $30,000, for the supposed purpose of combating "hate violence," and "workplace discrimination" against Asians. Even if one believes that this is a worthwhile activity, it is hard to see how it relates to helping September 11 terror victims.
After a wave of negative publicity, September 11th Fund CEO Joshua Gotbaum sought to assure donors to the "Tribute to Heroes" telethon that their money had not gone to advocacy groups. On Nov. 26, he revealed for the first time the alleged existence of another September 11th Fund, called the General September 11th Fund, from which the grants to the activist groups were supposedly being made. He explained that certain large foundations, like the Ford Foundation, had made donations and earmarked the money to go to the groups in question. The existence of a second, secret fund has only added to the confusion and controversy.
Mr. Gotbaum and the other officials of the September 11th Fund have exercised terrible judgment. The American people have been betrayed if money raised for victims is going to those seeking to impede the terrorist investigation. They have been equally betrayed if grants to political and ideological groups are being being channeled through the September 11th Fund so that they can be dressed up as victim relief.

Peter Flaherty is president of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Washington-based foundation supporting ethics and accountability in government (www.nlpc.org).

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