WHEN complaints surfaced last year about an Oklahoma City bombing relief fund, we urged readers to keep an open mind, pending release of an audit.
Release of the audit last week should put to rest any notions that the fund has been mismanaged. But of course it won't put those notions to rest because a small but vocal group of professional victims will remain vocal.
The audit concluded that the “overwhelming majority” of assistance requests were approved. A few bombing survivors may have legitimate beefs, but nothing in the audit supports claims of mismanagement. A key finding is that the fund's purpose was not to be — as the professional victims seem to think — a compensation kitty to be divvied up among victims and survivors of victims.
Instead, the fund has the narrow purpose of paying for the health care and educational needs of survivors. This makes it different from compensation paid to survivors of 9/11 victims, a government payout designed to stave off lawsuits against the airlines affected by the terrorist attacks. When the bombing fund strayed from its primary purpose, it did so to aid victims and survivors of natural disasters such as the Joplin, Mo., tornado outbreak in 2011.
A latter-day brouhaha over the bombing fund surfaced in sensationalized media reports featuring the professional victims class. Fund managers were always at a disadvantage in this dispute because they're limited in what they can say about individual cases, owing to privacy restrictions. The public is naturally sympathetic to the victims.
This attitude boiled over after an NBC News report on the fund. Viewer comments posted on NBC's website revealed a cluelessness about the purpose of the fund and its professional administration by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.
The fund's narrow mission makes it vulnerable to criticism. Victims denied a claim (or given less than that to which they feel entitled) are easy marks for network news programs. Even those with a more objective view of the fund were surprised to hear that the foundation is “sitting on” $10 million, which represents remaining donations to the fund and the interest earned on the principal.
Suppose that this $10 million were liquidated, with each victim or survivor getting a piece of it. Such a dispersal would satisfy the professional victims only for the time it takes for them to form a new grievance over how they should have gotten more than another victim. Suppose a victim or a first responder (police officer, firefighter) comes forth in the future and needs help treating post traumatic stress syndrome. The money would be gone.
More than $11 million has been spent to date by the foundation for bombing-related expenses and the peripheral donations such as the Joplin tornado. This money came from private donors, not the government. It was consolidated into a single fund administered by the foundation. This was a thoughtful approach to what could have become a circus of competing, duplicative claims.
Response to the bombing set what came to be known as “The Oklahoma Standard.” As we noted in December, complaints about the fund administration fly in the face of that standard and the wrangling could discourage people from donating when future tragedies occur.
Of course, the victims and their media allies will say that the foundation's supposedly stingy disbursement of funds will have that same chilling effect. We believe that rational, professional, audited fund management is preferable to a helter-skelter of smaller funds or a federal government takeover of all disaster mitigation efforts.
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has done what it was asked to do in responsibly spending donated money for victims and survivors. It will continue to do so.