This Week’s Column: Haitian Relief Efforts: Trust, But Verify

Hearts around the world ache for the people of Haiti as they continue, literally and figuratively, digging out of the rubble from the major earthquake there earlier this month. In addition to the still escalating death toll, consider the ongoing disruption of life for the survivors: not being able to go to work, go to school, or even drive down the street. It’s almost unfathomable for most of us.



And yet, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy, we know that unscrupulous souls will attempt to profit from the chaos. Aside from looting and other crime in the affected area, we’ve learned from experiences with Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami of 2004 that scam artists will bilk good-intentioned citizens for millions of dollars under the guise of “relief efforts.” With the advent of the internet, scamming people for money has never been easier; a potential donor enters their credit card information and a con man walks off with a quick payday.



Unfortunately, it’s not just the traditional con artist looking to cash in on the goodwill we feel toward the Haitian survivors. HSUS, the radical animal rights activist organization, is well known for their prodigious fundraising efforts amidst natural disasters. The Center for Consumer Freedom reminds us that “after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005, HSUS head Wayne Pacelle went on national television and pledged to reunite pets with their owners. An investigation of the post-Katrina money trail by Atlanta’s WSB-TV found that public documents accounted for just $7 million of the $34 million that HSUS raised in the wake of the storm.”



HSUS infamously bullied the television station and YouTube to pull the story and censor it from the web, so that video of the story is now available almost exclusively through an (ironically) Iranian video sharing site.



Likewise, Louisiana’s Attorney General conducted an 18-month investigation into HSUS’ fraudulent fundraising activities, culminating with HSUS announcing plans to contribute $600,000 toward the construction of an animal shelter on the grounds of a state prison. In other words, an Attorney General investigation was necessary to secure contribution of less than 1.8% of the funds raised in the name of relief efforts.



Furthermore, there may not be as many animals needing rescued in Haiti as HSUS claims in the first place due to the extreme poverty in the region. For a region in which nearly 60% of the populace is firmly below the poverty line, caring for companion animals isn’t in the typical budget. Furthermore, while livestock (mostly goats) were typical in the region prior to 2008, severe storms that year devastated many producers, cutting the HSUS figure of 5,000,000 goats drastically.



Finally, consider the following: HSUS is one of the largest, most well-funded, and politically powerful lobbying groups in the country. Described by CEO Wayne Pacelle as a “sophisticated political organization,” they are truly a “humane society” in name only. While most local animal shelters are under-funded and struggle for financial support, HSUS has accumulated well over $120 million in assets, primarily to advance their radical animal rights agenda. As the Center for Consumer Freedom points out, they’ve built an empire and a recognizable brand by capitalizing on the confusion HSUS’ very name provokes. “This misdirection results in an irony of which most animal lovers are unaware: HSUS raises enough money to finance animal shelters in every single state, with money to spare, yet it doesn’t operate a single one anywhere.”



Instead, HSUS spends millions on programs that work to economically cripple meat and dairy producers as they did in California with Proposition 2 and have threatened to do in Ohio. Their stated goals include eliminating the use of animals in biomedical research labs; phasing out pet breeding, zoos, and circus animal acts; and demonizing hunters as crazed lunatics. HSUS spends over $2 million annually on travel expenses alone in supporting its multi-national lobbying and public relations agenda going.



Meanwhile, dairy farmers struggling to make ends meet donated $100,000 through the National Milk Producers Federation and Cooperatives Working Together to the American Red Cross this week to engage in real relief efforts.



As President Reagan said about his Soviet adversaries at the end of the Cold War: Trust, but verify. Open your billfold to help the struggling people of Haiti, but beware and be aware of the places you choose to make your contributions. In addition to the Red Cross, I personally recommend the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR lost three key leaders in the earthquake, as they were in Haiti at the time of the quake working on improving nutrition in the country. In other words, they lost their lives doing actual work to help people in that country.



Our thoughts and prayers continue.