August 31, 2011; Source: Village Voice | Last week, the Associated Press focused on 9/11 charities that were pretty obviously rip-offs, scams created by predators willing to purloin donations for themselves and their relatives under the guise of 9/11 charitable assistance. 

Now , in the legendary New York alt-weekly Village Voice, Graham Rayman takes on a number of additional alleged phonies and frauds who have been using 9/11 to pump up their bank accounts and their inflated egos. He goes after a bunch of individuals and corporations—and public and quasi-public agencies such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Drug Enforcement Agency—that he says are profiteering from the tragedy.

Rayman defines two additional categories of 9/11 charity issues. One is the problem of profligate, expensive charities that might not be enriching insiders like the “charities” profiled by AP, but which still make one wonder about the “what” and “why” of these groups. For example, he talks about the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, with a $700 million construction budget and a $60 million annual operating budget. But that’s not all. The Port Authority is looking to cover $150 million of its expenditures for the memorial, and the Memorial’s fundraisers—despite original plans to rely on private contributions—are now reportedly seeking federal funding. 

A professor at John Jay College criticized the Memorial’s strategy, telling Rayman, “I don’t know anyone who insisted that it had to be done this way. Compare what it costs to maintain the Vietnam Memorial. No one asked for this enormously expensive memorial that will be difficult to maintain given the budget constraints.”

Rayman also discusses the 9/11 nonprofits formed by relatives and friends of people killed in the World Trade Center attacks and raises questions that we have touched on ourselves. After ten years, many of these nonprofits have changed their missions from aiding families to, as Rayman says, “remembrance, preservation of history, and public advocacy.” Some people, including 9/11 family members, told Rayman “they are bothered by the continued existence of some of these nonprofits. They question just what they are doing with the money. They also charge that the groups have forgotten why they formed initially, and made it into a full-time job.”

Rayman quotes one critic saying, “Nonprofit means profit. They have made a career off of the worst day in American history.”

It’s sort of easy for Rayman to take shots at the easily identifiable 9/11 charity scams or the excesses of charities like the Memorial. But there is a legitimate issue to discuss about victims’ charities, what they do, what they accomplish, what they don’t, and whether the relatives of victims necessarily make credible charity managers. It’s a touchy subject; there’s sort of an understanding that we shouldn’t raise questions about the charities formed by people who are motivated by unimaginable grief. Without demeaning all the good work of charities in response to 9/11 in New York, Washington, and elsewhere, this is an important discussion to have.—Rick Cohen