A charity watchdog group has stripped its top rating from the American Red Cross, already battered over its response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance has taken down a favorable report on the Red Cross from its Web site, where donors are updated on whether a charity meets the watchdog's management standards. The alliance pulled the report while it awaits Red Cross's response to 35 detailed questions about the charity's Sept. 11 relief work, including its use of donated money and blood.
The move surprised and angered Red Cross officials, who are demanding that the favorable report be restored until it delivers its responses, expected March 30 -- a date the Red Cross and the alliance had agreed on.
"It's like being sentenced before the trial," said Red Cross spokesman Robert Chlopak. The Red Cross is "very confident" that it will satisfy the alliance's criteria, Chlopak said, but in the meantime, it's operating under a cloud.
"We're not singling out the Red Cross," Bennett Weiner, the alliance's chief operating officer, said Wednesday. "We're going through an appropriate procedure in a charity report situation here -- in this case where there has been a lot of public inquiries and discussion."
The alliance updates its reports on the 350 charities it tracks about every 18 months. About three-quarters of the charities evaluated meet the alliance's standards. The previous alliance report on the Red Cross, Weiner said, was dated July 2000.
The Red Cross and the Wise Giving Alliance, based in Arlington, Va., declined to release the questions being asked.
The Red Cross received nearly $850 million in donations and thousands of extra units of blood after the terrorist attacks and quickly came under criticism by the public and on Capitol Hill for its handling of both. After initially saying it planned to use some of the money for long-term projects, Red Cross changed course in November and said the donations would go exclusively for victim relief.
Its president, Bernadine Healy, resigned, and the Red Cross brought in former U.S. senator George Mitchell to oversee the victims' fund. It also modified plans to create a large reserve of frozen blood, after reports that some blood had gone unused.
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