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2nd September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:41 pm

RNC: Are the Gustav Relief Efforts Legitimate?

Last night, I watched Laura Bush and Cindy McCain tell delegates at the Republican National Convention that they should take immediate action to help the victims of Hurricane Gustav.

Certainly helping those in distress is something worth encouraging and celebrating.  But how exactly are the Republicans getting the funds they raise to those in need?

You might guess the Red Cross.  But you’d be wrong.

During their presentations, Laura and Cindy encouraged people to go to the website of something called called “Cause Greater.”  I had never heard of this particular charity, so I visited their website.  Here’s a screenshot:

“Cause Greater” is not a charity, but rather a wholly owned subsidiary of the McCain campaign. Rather than directing assistance to existing charities (which is what the Obama campaign has done by encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross and/or Save the Children), they are instead directing charitable donors to a campaign portal that also happens to include a link to the McCain home page.

Wait — it gets even better.

If you look closely at the screenshot, you’ll notice that Cause Greater redirects donors to six sites,  Four link to state-sponsored disaster relief funds.  One links to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a community foundation that has established a Gustav relief fund.  None of those are particularly controversial.

The sixth is something called the Aidmatrix Foundation, which is listed both as a charity working in Louisiana and the place to call if someone wants donate by phone.

Here’s what their website has to say:

Aidmatrix is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit headquartered in Dallas, Texas, USA, with offices in Germany and India. The Aidmatrix Foundation, Inc. builds and operates powerful technology hubs that support diverse stakeholder groups in their efforts to work together to solve the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises. More than 35,000 leading corporate, nonprofit and government partners leverage our solutions to mobilize more than $1.5 billion in aid annually, worldwide. The donated goods, money and services impact the lives of more than 65 million people.

That didn’t really clear things up for me, so I went to Wikipedia:

The Aidmatrix Foundation, Inc., (Aidmatrix) is a U.S.-based nonprofit 501 (c) (3). It is a supply-chain software developer for nonprofits and those involved in the supply chain of humanitarian relief (disaster relief, medical relief, and hunger relief.) It is headquartered in Dallas. . . .

In 2006, Aidmatrix secured a major cooperative agreement grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to build a national Internet-based network for humanitarian aid. Known as The Aidmatrix Network®, the project was to create a virtual exchange or marketplace that would connect the state and local governments with donors and nonprofits. It focused on in-kind donations management, cash donations management, and volunteer management.

That’s a little clearer, but the problem is that Wikipedia’s editors have posted a warning that this page “appears to be an advertisement,” which means it probably was written by Aidmatrix itself.

But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment.  Aidmatrix uses techology to provide supply-chain logistics support for NGOs working on humanitarian relief and crisis response.  Its website includes statements of support by some well-known NGOs.  Its main donors are the Accenture Foundation and UPS.  It also gets a big chunk of money from FEMA, but it’s not clear how much.  It does not, like many NGOs, have its IRS form 990 available on its website — if it did, we could answer a lot of these questions.

What’s not clear is whether Aidmatrix won the FEMA grant through a competition or if it was yet another sole-source award, which has been the rule rather than the exception with homeland security and defense contracts awarded during the Bush Administration.

Now let’s take a look at their executive leadership.  Their President and CEO is Scott McCallum, who served as (Republican) Governor of Wisconsin from February 2001, when he succeeded Tommy Thompson (after Thompson resigned to become Secretary of Health and Human Services) to January 2003, when he was succeeded by Jim Doyle (who defeated McCallum in November 2002).  Before he became governor, McCallum was lieutenant governor for fourteen years and before that, was a state senator.

Here’s what Aidmatrix’s website says about McCallum:

Governor Scott McCallum has more than 30 years of executive experience leading cross-functional divisions including operations planning, supply management, media and public relations, marketing and development, government relations and strategic partnerships. He served as Wisconsin Governor, with a career spanning more than a decade in public service office. . . .

McCallum acts as President and CEO of the Aidmatrix Foundation, a nonprofit that uses advanced information technology to create efficiencies between donors and those in need.  As CEO, he has grown the Aidmatrix Foundation to globally transact $1.5 billion annually with operations in six continents to 35,000 nonprofits. The work ranges from distribution of medical products for U.S. Free Clinics and international Non-Government Organizations (NGO) to program partnerships with global organizations like International Red Cross and the World Food Programme.  Most charitable food in the United States goes through Aidmatrix technologies for contribution and distribution. The Aidmatrix bundle of solution systems was recently designated as “the Network” to be used in preparedness for American disaster relief, with endorsements from federal branches and inter-state coalitions.

It’s not clear when McCallum became Aidmatrix’s CEO, but it’s fair to speculate that it was before FEMA awarded it the contract.  An April 2004 press release from the Discovery Institute announcing his appointment as a Senior Fellow says that McCallum is head of the McCallum group and does not mention Aidmatrix.

And yes, you did read that right:  McCallum is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which is best known for its promotion of intelligent design.  But they also take conservative positions on other public policy issues.  As far as I can tell, the one op-ed McCallum published (on November 16, 2004) under Discovery’s imprimatur focuses on the issue of voter identification, which Democrats have argued is code for voter supression.  In the op-ed, McCallum suggests that there were questions about whether John Kerry “really carried Wisconsin,” and argues that a system requiring photo identification for voting would prevent fraud.

In the end, however, a CEO’s political or religious beliefs don’t matter as long as they don’t affect corporate policy and the person in question is a good manager.  When it comes to Aidmatrix, we don’t know whether those things are true, but there’s no evidence of Aidmatrix advocating the positions put forward by the Discovery Institute.

There is, however, have evidence of McCallum’s management skills during his tenure as governor of Wisconsin:

A big shake-up has occurred in the Wisconsin governor’s office, and that may not be all. The governor, Scott McCallum, a Republican, has been getting a lot of criticism recently for proposing to erase the state’s $1.1 billion deficit by ending aid to local governments.

His management style has also been criticized. Disgruntled supporters say he is short on people skills, slow to cultivate important allies and slower still to respond to requests and calls from constituents.

A poll released a few weeks ago found that 40 percent of Wisconsin residents viewed Mr. McCallum unfavorably and that he might be defeated by any of four Democrats eager to take him on in November.

Little wonder, then, that in recent days Mr. McCallum began firing and hiring, starting with the chief of staff and working down. His spokesman, Tim Roby, explained, ”When you get to the point of people telling you that you’re not the right one for the job of governor of Wisconsin, you get concerned.”

So if he wasn’t a good manager while Governor of Wisconsin, how did McCallum get named to lead an organization that claims to manage more than $1.5 billion in “global transactions”?  What did he bring to the table that made him appealing to Aidmatrix?  And how did McCallum, a lifelong resident of Wisconsin, come to head an organization based in Dallas, where he has no history and no known connections.  Except, of course, this guy.

One other little tidbit:  On February 14, 2008, the McCain campaign announced the formation of its Wisconsin Steering Committee.  Scott McCallum is the first name on the list, ahead of his former boss (and the much more prominent) Tommy Thompson.

Aidmatrix may be an entirely legitimate organization, but there’s a real lack of transparency regarding how they got the FEMA contract and how they got involved in the McCain campaign.

To learn the truth, Aidmatrix, FEMA, and the Bush Administration need to answer some questions:

1.  How did Aidmatrix get its FEMA grant?  Was it sole-sourced or competed?  How much is it for?  What percentage of Aidmatrix’s budget comes from the FEMA grant?

2.  If their main focus is logistics — using “advanced information technology to create efficiencies between donors and those in need” — what are they doing managing donations for the McCain website?  And where will these donations go after they receive them?

3.  Did Aidmatrix get the hurricane relief gig because of McCallum’s connections with the McCain campaign?

4.  If not, why did McCain choose Aidmatrix instead of better-known and more established non-partisan humanitarian relief organizations such as the Red Cross?

5.  Did AIdmatrix inform and/or clear its involvement in the McCain campaign with FEMA or other U.S. government officials?

Josh Marshall, white courtesy phone, please.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 2:41 pm and is filed under globalization, politics, world at home. It is tagged under , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There is currently one response to “RNC: Are the Gustav Relief Efforts Legitimate?”

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  1. 1 On September 5th, 2008, Jeff_NH said:

    Why would you assume they should send people to the red cross website after the mismanagement in the Red Cross when it came to other large scale disasters?


    I am not saying that this diminishes any of your assertions about “Cause Greater” but to assert that there is some untarnished alternative out there is quite misleading.

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