(CNSNews.com) - One of the largest relief funds set up to help the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, has awarded grants totaling more than $1 million to a variety of left-wing political groups devoted to causes like hate crime legislation, expanded welfare, gun control and nationalized health care.
According to United Way CEO Brian Gallagher, the September 11th Fund has received donor pledges totaling $334 million, with $250 million already collected and $47 million distributed. The fund is a project of the United Way and the New York Community Trust.
But critics say many of the groups receiving charitable contributions from the fund have little or nothing to do with helping victims of the attacks, and records show contributions are used to pay for things including ethnic media, office equipment and massage therapy.
Victim Relief or Children's Defense?
In one case, the September 11th Fund awarded a grant of $31,000 to the Children's Defense Fund (CDF).
The CDF has been at the forefront of lobbying for "children's rights," gun control and expanded welfare programs.
According to the fund's financial documents, the grant to the CDF was "to get out information about subsidized health insurance expanded in response to September 11th."
But this and other grants are drawing criticism. "Giving money to organizations that have controversial political agendas like CDF's and not directly assisting victims' families is just flat out wrong," said John Carlisle of the Capital Research Center, a conservative charity watchdog group.
"Children's Defense Fund is a major advocate for the vast expansion of the federal welfare state and their affiliation with Hillary Clinton is well known," he added. Clinton served as a CDF board member between 1986 and 1992.
The CDF did not return repeated phone calls requesting comment on its grant from the September 11 Fund.
The Intersection of Disaster Relief and 'Hate Crime'
The September 11th Fund also awarded $30,000 to the Asian American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (AALDEF) to provide "legal help and preventative measures against hate violence."
The AALDEF's web site states the mission of the group is to "achieve social and economic justice for Asian Americans and all Americans."
It also states that AALDEF is "concerned about reports of harassment, intimidation and violence against South Asian Americans, particularly Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sikhs and other Indians in New York City."
The group's goals include stopping "racial profiling based on ... race, religion or national origin" and defending affirmative action programs.
The AALDEF is also a member of the Alliance for Justice, a consortium of left-of-center groups including the National Organization for Women Legal Defense Fund, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Planned Parenthood, and the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund.
Margaret Fung, executive director of AALDEF, told CNSNews.com the $30,000 grant was "to hire community organizers to assist in providing information and legal assistance to victims of hate violence, especially in the South Asian community here in New York City" and to fight "workplace discrimination."
Fung defended the use of the grant from the September 11th Fund for the hate crime program. "They are victims of the tragedy because the kinds of incidents that occurred had a direct impact on individuals. It would not have occurred but for the attacks on the WTC," she explained.
The Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC) also received a grant of $60,000 from the September 11th Fund "to provide emergency assistance" and combat "attacks on Arab-Americans."
AAFSC spokesperson Mahdis Keshavarz told CNSNews.com the grant money is going to a hotline to help fight "hate crime or biases" perpetrated against the Arab community of New York.
Keshavarz said the problem involves "women being afraid to go to the grocery store, to take their children to school, so the grant is basically targeted at furthering the programs and specifically the hotline."
Subsidizing Critics of 'Sympathetic' American Press
The September 11th Fund also gave a grant of $81,150 to the Independent Press Association (IPA) "to use community and ethnic newspapers to distribute information about victim assistance to immigrants and non-English speaking people and to prevent bias-related violence," according to the fund.
The IPA describes itself as supporting "independent publications committed to social justice... "
An undated statement issued after Sept. 11 by Abby Scher, director of the IPA, was headlined with the words "IPA wins relief," and referred to the grant's beneficiary as "New York's Endangered Ethnic Press." Scher called the grant from The September 11th Fund "only a drop in the bucket of what's needed... "
The IPA's Internet site features an article titled "Observers Cast Doubt on the Objectivity of the American Press."
The article criticizes the American media coverage of the terrorist attacks and military action in Afghanistan for being too pro-American. The article states that the American media "did not hide their sympathy for Americans and in particular New Yorkers in this difficult period."
A top official with the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a Washington, D.C.-based legal watchdog group, called it "a shame," that so much money was being disbursed to groups with a clear "political or ideological agenda."
"The real victims of September 11th are the victims of this politicized process," said NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm. "Every dollar spent for a group that has a political agenda is a dollar that can't be spent for the real need of the victims."
Miscellany - Phones, Massage Therapy and 'Environmental Justice'
Another beneficiary of the September 11 Fund is Legal Services of New York, which received a grant of $40,000 "to replace phones, computers and other office equipment destroyed in the attack."
According to spokeswoman Edwina Martin, the group has an annual operating budget of $33 million and gets its funding from federal, state and local governments as well as private grants.
Martin said the $40,000 grant was necessary because, "If we don't have our phones and computers, we can't do anything and people are left with nothing."
She noted that the offices were "fairly close" to the World Trade Center, and that "equipment wasn't functioning." Martin said Legal Services is providing civil legal help to individuals facing eviction because of unemployment.
Other grants given by the September 11th Fund include one for $57,575 to the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a "disability rights" and "environmental justice" organization.
September 11 Fund documents show the money is "to help families of maintenance and restaurant workers who died at the WTC deal with rent, credit card debt and other legal and financial problems."
The New York Immigration Coalition collected a $450,000 grant to help "access relief assistance to immigrants harmed by the disaster." The group's stated purpose is to secure "immigrant rights."
Coalition Executive Director Margie McHugh has previously lobbied for expanded government welfare programs and penned a 1997 essay titled "Republican Proposals on Immigrants--A Windfall Profit for the Feds, a Disaster for New York."
Carlisle speculated that Americans would not have given so generously had they known that so much of the money raised for the Sept. 11 victims was going to be diverted to groups with sharply defined political causes.
"The public expects that the money that is given to these organizations goes to help the families, and clearly a lot of these organization are politically controversial organizations which are doing little or no real relief work on behalf of those victims' families," he said.
"It's an abuse of trust on the part of the September 11th Fund," Carlisle added.
Not all September 11 Fund grant recipients have such clearly defined political goals. The Olive Leaf Wholeness Center received a grant of $100,000 to provide "massage therapy to rescue workers, medical examiners, staff and victims' family members at various relief locations," according to the fund.
The Olive Leaf's goals include creating "an enriching, humane, and ecologically sound healing environment" to "start people on their journey toward wholeness." The September 11th Fund grant will go to "provide stress reduction bodywork" to rescue and relief personnel.
Carlisle believes this money was misspent as well. "If these rescue workers want a massage, I think they already know where to go. They don't need a $100,000 grant from the September 11th Fund," he said.
"When they start straying into massage therapy for rescue workers or getting involved in hate crimes, that is not what these people are giving for," Carlisle added. "It smacks of them using September 11 to advance their organization's agenda and that is, under the circumstances, shameful."
Ideology Not a Factor
But Jeanine Moss, spokeswoman for the September 11th Fund, told CNSNews.com the ideology of the non-profit groups receiving the grants is irrelevant
"People are concerned with the victims of the crimes. That is why millions of people opened their hearts and wallets to this cause. I don't think people are saying, 'Oh gosh, I don't want to help them if the person who is helping them might not have all the same values I have,'" she said.
"Our job is not to judge what an organization's opinions are. Our job is to help victims of the September 11th attack," Moss added.
Last week, the September 11th Fund was criticized for a $171,000 grant it gave to the Legal Aid Society (LAS), a group fighting for expanded government programs and welfare rights in New York City.
The LAS is also defending a number of detainees held on immigration charges in connection with the terror attacks.
Steven Banks, spokesman for the LAS, maintains the men are being held on civil violations and are not criminal suspects. He added that if any of the detainees were charged in connection with the terror attacks, the LAS would "withdraw from the case."
But the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) said just because a detainee has not been charged with a crime, it doesn't mean that person is not part of the government's investigation into the terror attacks.
"Individuals arrested on immigration charges in connection with the 9-11 investigation were charged because of the immigration violations, but clearly were arrested because of a lead developed from the investigation into the terrorist attacks," INS spokesman Russell Bergeron told CNSNews.com.
"The American people fully expect that if we have someone in custody, that we will not release that person until the investigation has determined that that person is not linked to the ongoing investigation," he added.
Officer Stephen Jacobson of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where the detainees are being held, said he could not provide any information about Legal Aid's clients without first knowing their names.
Legal Aid did not respond to repeated requests to release the names of the detainees they are defending.
Sept. 11 Charity Gave Money to Group Defending Terror Suspects (November 08, 2001)
Criticism Mounts for Charity Fund Defending Possible Terror Suspects (November 09, 2001)
9-11 Fund Flap Pits One Legal Group Against Another (November 15, 2001)