8 Days: Elizabeth Dole: Always out for those special interests...even at the Red Cross

DAY 8

Elizabeth Dole served as head of the Red Cross from 1991 to 1999. Though this should be a position to do good for people, Dole’s record at the organization is consistent with her record of ineffectiveness in the Senate. Before leaving the organization saddled with hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, she spent millions of dollars hiring political friends and allies as consultants to the Red Cross and chapter executives started to file complaints that her decisions were “politically motivated.” No matter where she works, it seems Elizabeth Dole is always looking out for those special interests.

Dole Left The Red Cross Red Cross With $262.9 Million Of Debt. The ability of the Red Cross to meet day-to-day obligations is reflected primarily in its working capital position. Financial flexibility is further affected by borrowing capacity. At June 30, 1998, Red Cross owed a total of $262.9 million. The debt-to-net assets ratio at June 30, 1998, was 13.5 percent, well within existing debt covenants. [American Red Cross, “1998 Corporate Annual Report”]

An Audit Found That The Red Cross Needed “A More Robust Leadership Team;” Accountability Was “Non-Existent.” An external audit conducted by KPMG Peat Marwick concluded that the Red Cross needed “a more robust leadership team” at its headquarters than the one Dole established during her first term. “Accountability for failures and successes [was] non-existent.” [Houston Chronicle, 3/9/97; CNN, 2/3/97]

Dole Spent Millions On Consultants While Red Cross Employees Were Laid Off To Reduce $10 Million Deficit. In 1996, a critique of the Red Cross headquarters conducted by their outside auditor, KPMG Peat Marwick found that the headquarters had spent $23.2 million on consultants and personal-service contracts in fiscal 1996. In some departments consulting fees amounted to more than half the payroll, the auditor reported, and warned that the hired brains might amount to a “shadow staff.” In 1996, 101 positions were eliminated to reduce a $10 million deficit. From 1991 to 1997, Dole more than doubled the number of consultants at the Red Cross. Further cutbacks were expected. [Knight Ridder, 3/23/97]

Dole Violated Red Cross Political Neutrality Bylaws; Hired Former Bob Dole Consultants And Ex-Campaigners For Personal Staff. The Red Cross’ by laws demanded political neutrality for the staff, however, Dole filled a number of top positions with political friends from the Reagan administration and her husband’s campaign. After Elizabeth Dole hired former Bob Dole presidential consultants, such as Mari Maseng Will - the communications director for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential bid, and hired two other ex-campaigners for her personal staff at the Red Cross, speculation was that she intended to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000. [Houston Chronicle, 3/9/97; Austin American-Statesman, 3/21/99; Knight Ridder, 3/23/97]

Consultants Were Part Of “Special Team” Assembled To Keep Dole’s Red Cross Work In Alignment With Political Goals. According to Judith Reitman, author of “Bad Blood: Crisis in the American Red Cross,” Mari Maseng Will, Robert Davis and a third Red Cross consultant were part of a small “special team,” assembled in Elizabeth Dole’s first term to help keep her Red Cross work in alignment with her political goals. “I advised her throughout that period on general Red Cross image and public-relations issues,” Will responded. “I believe I am a trusted adviser; she has shared confidential matters with me.” Davis declined comment on his advisory relationship with Dole. [Knight Ridder, 3/23/97]

Chapter Executives Complained Dole’s Decisions Were Politically Motivated; Officials Issued “Alert” To Tell Them What To Say To The Press. In September 1995, when chapter executives began to complain to the press that Dole’s decisions on toning down an HIV-AIDS program seemed to be informed by political motives, Red Cross officials quickly fired off an “Orwellian, agency-wide alert” to employees to explain how they should defend the handling of the HIV-AIDS program. The memorandum, obtained by The Nation, set forth the official line: “Mrs. Dole asked the Board to become involved in order to ensure there would be no false perception that politics had entered into the issue.” [Nation, 7/1/96; New York Times, 9/13/95; Austin American Statesman, 9/13/95]

After Hurricane Floyd Devastated North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole Visited The State To Raise Campaign Money. On September 16, 1999, Hurricane Floyd hit the North Carolina coast with 110-mph winds and an 11-foot wall of water. According to the Associated Press, emergency workers in boats and “Marines in helicopters” had to rescue “more than 1,500 people from roofs and trees” in the North Carolina coastal plain. Five days later, Elizabeth Dole visited North Carolina to raise money for her presidential campaign. The next day, she visited New York to attend another fundraiser, where she joked about not having time to get her dry cleaning done. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the ground in North Carolina was “too soggy to bury the dead.” The Associated Press went on to state, “Dead hogs and chickens bob along with kitchen chairs and coffins in the filthy floodwaters… it could be weeks before some places dry out.” [Raleigh News and Observer, 9/23/99; Winston-Salem Journal, 9/22/99; Greensboro News and Record, 9/22/99; Associated Press, 9/22/99]

Dole Resigned From Red Cross To Run For President 11 Days After She Featured Herself On A $1.3 Million Prime Time TV Program Showcasing Red Cross Achievements. Dole was prominently featured on a prime-time television Christmas Eve program showcasing the Red Cross’s achievements. The telecast cost the Red Cross $1.3 million to produce. “People were thrilled,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Josie Martin. The show raised $25,000 through a national toll-free number and may have brought in more to the Red Cross’s 1,300 local chapters. [Austin American-Statesman, 3/21/99]

FDA Asked Judge To Hold Red Cross In Contempt For Not Protecting Blood Supply.
The Food and Drug Administration, after finding several instances in which the Red Cross violated blood safety laws, settled a lawsuit against the Red Cross with a consent decree in 1993, which was meant to ensure the safety of the Red Cross’ blood supply. In 2001, the FDA for the first time asked a judge to hold the Red Cross in contempt of the 1993 agreement. The FDA stated that “inspections revealed persistent and serious violations of blood safety rules.” [Washington Post, 5/8/93; New York Times, 12/23/01; FDA Release, 12/13/01]

Dole’s Strategy to Reinvigorate Red Cross “Strained” Cooperative Ties Between Charity and Independent Banks. A significant aspect of Dole’s strategy to reinvigorate the Red Cross drew fire and strained the cooperative ties between the charity and the independent community blood banks. Scrambling to increase revenue, the Red Cross opened a drive to get a bigger share of the blood market by poaching donors in areas served by community blood banks and undercutting prices to hospitals. [New York Times, 5/30/96]

---Disclosure: I am Kay Hagan's Online Communications Director---