Friday, June 27, 2014
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the American Red Cross (“ARC”) is resisting disclosure of certain information sought by ProPublica. The latter has reportedly filed a public records request with New York State to determine how the charity raised and spent in excess of $300 million following Hurricane Sandy. The ARC is reported to have provided “some information about its Sandy-related activities to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman,” but is arguing for redaction of certain reported details on the grounds that they reveal trade secrets. The story on ProPublica’s web page explains that counsel for the ARC maintains that documents filed with the AG contain "internal and proprietary methodology and procedures for fundraising, confidential information about its internal operations, and confidential financial information."
Soliciting and expending funds in connection with major disasters can present some thorny legal issues (as several of us tax and nonprofit law scholars have discussed in our scholarship). In general, analyzing whether these issues pose a problem in any given case does require assessment of the type of information that ProPublica seeks. While privacy laws protecting individuals should certainly be observed, I would think the public interest better served by erring on the side of full disclosure.