New York's attorney general plans to ask at least 50 charities to be more transparent about what they're doing with hundreds of millions of dollars raised to help victims of Sandy.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday in the flood- and fire-ravaged Breezy Point section of Queens, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman questioned whether aid money has been spent urgently enough in the nearly nine months since the storm.
Some 40 percent of about $575 million in donations were unspent as of early April, according to an interim report Schneiderman's office released Wednesday.
"It's essential that both the donations and the distribution process be completely transparent and above board," Schneiderman said. He said investigators in his office, which oversees charities, are still collecting information but have already seen suggestions of "serious problems in communication with donors and the distribution of funds."
Schneiderman said his office is also interested in finding out how much money raised for Sandy relief actually went to organizational overhead or "non-Sandy" purposes.
In the interim report, the attorney general's office said that charities and relief organizations that responded to a spring survey said about $238 million remained unspent as of early April.
"We understand that not every dollar can be spent right away, and some causes are best addressed over the long term," Schneiderman said.
More current statistics on the total amount of aid spending were not immediately available Wednesday, but the largest Sandy fundraiser, the American Red Cross, said that as of June 11 it had spent or committed about $225 million of the $304 million in donations dedicated to Sandy relief.
In its report, Schneiderman's office said that of the 89 organizations it identified as raising funds for Sandy victims or the rebuilding effort, 17 acknowledged that at least some of the money they raised in the storm's aftermath would be used on charitable endeavors not directly linked to Sandy.
The Red Cross said all donations made to the organization for a month after the storm were automatically dedicated to the Sandy relief effort. Donations pledged online or by phone after Nov. 26, or by text after Dec. 31, went into the organization's general disaster relief fund unless donors specifically asked that their money be restricted to the storm response.
"We believe that we are spending those donations carefully and wisely — and in line with the intent of our donors," Red Cross spokesman Roger Lowe said in an email. He said the organization welcomed the attorney general's interest in the issue and shared his goal of being transparent with donors.