Uncharitable charges

Watchdog reports cancer charity shorts patients

The large fleet of cars the society owns, Ingram says, is necessary in a state as big as Texas.

Rather than parceling out money to individual cancer victims for treatment, Ingram says, the society must use its limited resources to serve as a "catalyst" for research, public education, and lobbying for such things as higher cigarette taxes.

"If we gave individuals financial aid, we wouldn't be able to serve 10 percent of [the number now]," Ingram says. "It's a decision of how we can help the most people with the resources we have. We would like to be all things to all people, but that's just not possible."

The National Charities Information Bureau, a New York-based private watchdog group that monitors organization finances and helps donors weed out the bad charities from the good, has regularly given the Cancer Society's fiscal practices a clean bill of health.

Daniel Langan, the watchdog bureau's director of public information, says Bennett is out of line in how he reads the financial numbers.

"It's just not accurate," Langan says. "According to Bennett, no salaries can be counted as being program services, and they very definitely are."

Large charities like the cancer societies, Langan says, need large adequately paid staff to manage and coordinate their programs.

"I don't look at it as perpetuating a bureaucracy," he says. "You have to figure out how you are going to spend your money. Suppose you had a cancer charity where someone threw darts at a board to see who would get grants? You would have an organization where everything would be 'program costs.' But would that be smart?"

Although Langan says the Cancer Society generally meets national standards for financial reporting, Bennett says those standards themselves are "fantasyland."

If salaries are counted as direct services to the public, Bennett points out, then if the cancer society doubled all its salaries, on paper it would appear to have doubled its level of service.

"What I'm trying to do is simply to assess these organizations based on what they claim to be doing in their fundraising vis a vis what they're actually doing," Bennett says. "If there was less of a gap between the fundraising rhetoric and the reality of their programs, I don't think I'd have anything to say."

There is little question that cancer society officials would like Bennett to shut up. Ingram and others infer that Bennett is somehow tied to the tobacco industry, although they concede they have no proof of that. Bennett denies any connection whatsoever to the tobacco industry.

Ingram and other society officials point to an incident in Bennett's office as proof of his unreasoned hostility towards their charity. Two cancer society officials visited Bennett at his college office while the professor was compiling his research, offering to explain financial documents to him.

During the meeting, Ingram says, Bennett lit up a cigarette. "He blew smoke in their faces," Ingram says.

"Fifty million Americans smoke," Bennett responds. "Senator McCarthy, call your office."

Bennett says he has been called a kook, a stooge, and a hack, among other things. "You might as well throw in that I'm a lousy golfer and I was baptized Presbyterian but don't go to church as much as I should," he jokes.

The point remains, he says, that donors to the cancer society probably don't know what their money is being used for, and how little of it goes to directly help cancer victims.

"I think people, when they give to a charity, expect people who are not as well off as themselves to be helped," Bennett says. "But the primary beneficiaries of this system are the health charities themselves--the executives and staffs. They are the people in control, and they're not going to change a good thing."

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