The American Red Cross has come under fire over payments to publicists
who recruited stars to add lustre to its image, even as funds ran short for
victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The controversy could not have come at a worse time for the charity: this Tuesday,
it unveils a “celebrity cabinet” of personalities whose glamour will
be exploited to attract money, volunteers and donations of blood.
Its critics are unhappy at what they call an inappropriate use of funds. “They’re
hoping people will send them money on the basis of celebrity, as opposed to
good works and effectiveness,” said Daniel Borochoff, president of the
American Institute of Philanthropy, which monitors charities’ finances.
The Red Cross was reported last week to have paid consultants more than $500,000
(£285,000) in three years to recruit stars, pitch its name in Hollywood
and promote its chief executive as the face of the charity.
A New York publicist receives $5,000 a month to lure celebrities and polish
the charity’s image in Hollywood, according to documents obtained by The
A company in California has been paid $114,000 to get the Red Cross included
in story lines for film and television, and a Texas firm of image specialists
won a contract for $127,000 to boost the profile of Marsha J Evans, the chief
executive, a year before she left with a $780,000 severance package.
The Red Cross defends its spending, insisting monthly payments to the publicist
Paul Freundlich have been cost-effective. “His efforts have made a huge
impact on the American public in terms of increasing financial donations, volunteers
and blood donations,” said Julie Thurmond Whitmer, head of the charity’s
The row follows a censure by Congress for diverting contributions for the September
11 emergency to other uses and criticism last week from the Senate finance committee,
which is investigating the charity’s slow response to Katrina.
Some of the media sniping seems disingenuous, however. How many news organisations
would really have sent reporters to cover the Red Cross’s campaign to
vaccinate 13m children in Kenya? They did when Jane Seymour, the actress, went