SOME Oklahoma City bombing survivors aren't happy with how a victim relief fund is being administered. Now that their complaints have led to a pending audit, they aren't happy with the choice of the auditor. If the audit doesn't come to the “right” conclusions, their unease will surely rise to another level.
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation oversees a $10 million bombing relief fund and was recently accused of sitting on the money rather than writing checks. At first blush, the criticism seemed valid. First blushes aren't always accurate.
Foundation officials have made a good case that they've done things by the book. Nevertheless, they welcome the audit. This isn't good enough for the complaining survivors, who cited alleged conflicts of interest at the auditing firm. They also want help from an attorney who was involved in relief efforts following 9/11, the Gulf oil spill and the Virginia Tech shootings.
The bombing fund dispute doesn't call for lawyering up. The fund was never intended to pay survivors and victims compensation solely for being a survivor or a victim. It was created to pay specific bills related to health care and college education.
Every high-profile tragedy brings out the lawyers. An attorney who once defended O.J. Simpson tried to press claims against suppliers of the fertilizer that Timothy McVeigh used to explode the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. This is the equivalent of suing the refiners of the jet fuel carried by the planes that struck the Pentagon and World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
A subset of bombing survivors has been unhappy from the outset. After 9/11, they began pressing for compensation patterned after the money going to survivors of the terrorist attack. Their argument was based on “fairness.” But as we noted at the time, doesn't “fairness” dictate that survivors of all murder victims be compensated in like manner? Should victims and survivors be compensated whenever a crime makes international news but not when a murder happens down the street?
This is a dangerous, unaffordable concept. The federal government paid 9/11 survivors in exchange for waiving lawsuits. Period.
After the bombing, people from around the world donated money to help survivors and victims. Some of that money remains in the disputed fund. If the foundation were to liquidate the fund tomorrow, divvying up proceeds equally among survivors, the complaints wouldn't end. They would shift to arguments about the amount of the checks.
How Oklahoma City responded to the bombing set a benchmark that came to be known as “The Oklahoma Standard.” Complaints about relief efforts fly in the face of that standard. Also, the wrangling could dissuade people from donating in the future when tragedies occur.
The attention paid to the bombing sparked envy in one Oklahoma legislator, who pressed claims to help survivors of the 1921 racial violence in Tulsa. Despite a rebuff from the Legislature, interest remains for taxpayer-funded reparations. Proponents cited compensation paid by the state of Florida to survivors of racial violence there in 1923. It should come as no surprise that the Florida claimants fought among themselves and complained about the amount one survivor got in relation to what another got.
We long ago realized that some bombing survivors would become professional victims. The rest of us need to let the professional auditors do their job before drawing conclusions about the fund's oversight.