Unless you have some philosophical objection to reading any news whatsoever about charities, you are likely aware that the Red Cross is sometimes kinda skeevy with the bazillions of dollars they take in, like when they received giant gobs of 9/11 donations but then decided it was cool if local chapters kept the money instead.
You’d think things like that would make them be a little less weirdly evasive about what they do with donations after an enormous disaster like Hurricane Sandy, but you’d be wrong. Right now, the Red Cross is seeking to block disclosure of how they raised and spent that money because they say it’s a trade secret.
Back in 2013, the New York Attorney General asked the Red Cross for detailed info about how they spent all that sweet hurricane cash. Somehow, the Red Cross was able to cut a deal with the AG that required them only to release summary data, which seems kind of dubious to us.
It seemed that way to ProPublica as well, so they filed a FOIA request to find out what info the Red Cross had provided that made the AG so sure that they would totally never ever do anything money shady ever again. Instead of everyone just chilling out and giving ProPublica the data, the Red Cross hired an attorney to block disclosure of a bunch of the information, saying it falls under the state’s trade secret exemption, because if the rest of the world finds out how Red Cross does what it does, they will totally put the Red Cross out of business or something.
The documents include “internal and proprietary methodology and procedures for fundraising, confidential information about its internal operations, and confidential financial information,” wrote Gabrielle Levin of Gibson Dunn in a letter to the attorney general’s office.
If those details were disclosed, “the American Red Cross would suffer competitive harm because its competitors would be able to mimic the American Red Cross’s business model for an increased competitive advantage,” Levin wrote.
OK. Let’s grant that in order to stay competitive in the rough-and-tumble world of ginormous nonprofit fundraising, you need to keep some of your fundraising methods a secret, because you are currently the bestest at wringing money out of people. We assume the next best is fucking Race for the Cure, and the third is probably that animal humane society shelter thingy where they play Sarah McLachlan songs over sad pictures of animals until you sob and donate. But even if you need to keep the way you raise money secret, how on god’s green earth do you actually justify saying that it needs to be a secret how you spend it as well? Like if the Red Cross says “yeah, after Hurricane Sandy, we spent $5 million on temporary shelters,” somewhere, somehow, some upstart shoestring nonprofit will now know how to dethrone the Red Cross as King of the Fundraisers??
Look, Red Cross. You’re going to get money from people no matter what. Even if you’re diverting a substantial chunk of money to hookers and blow, people will STILL give you money, because they don’t know who else to donate to, so there’s really no benefit to being complete dicks about it.
Trade secrets our collective asses.