Red Cross Ready / State Farm

July 6, 2016; ProPublica

Yesterday, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill that would force the Red Cross to be more transparent. The measure was introduced after, as NPQ’s nonprofit newswire has previously reported, Grassley’s investigation met with significant resistance on the part of the congressionally chartered charity.

Grassley’s investigation was sparked in part by negative media coverage of the organization by ProPublica and NPR, which have dug deeply into a number of aspects of the group’s work, including its real-vs.-declared spending in Haiti, its responsiveness after other disasters, and its opaque manner of accounting for its spending in general.

Grassley’s proposed American Red Cross Transparency Act would amend the group’s Congressional charter to provide the Government Accountability Office with complete access to its records. This measure likely flows from the fact that Grassley believes that Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern worked first to kill and then to severely limit the purview of a GAO investigation into the group’s work. (McGovern denied this, but investigators confirmed it.) Under this new measure, if the Red Cross refused to share a requested document, the GAO would have the power to subpoena the charity.

The bill also seeks to move the Red Cross’s tiny and hamstrung internal investigative unit from under the authority of the general counsel to be overseen by the agency’s board.

In what has become classic Red Cross style, a spokesperson said in a statement that it would “will review the proposed legislation and make our views known to Congress at the appropriate time.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) introduced a similar bill last year, and the Red Cross at that time resisted it, saying that there were already “existing mechanisms in place to evaluate our disaster response.”—Ruth McCambridge