01/11/2013 02:52 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Donations May Not Be Going Entirely To Victims, Watchdog Says

Though charities committed to Sandy relief have been inundated with contributions, victims may not be getting as much money as donors have been led to believe.

The Disaster Accountability Project, a watchdog group that’s been examining Sandy donations, told the New York Daily News that some nonprofits have been misrepresenting how contributions are being spent. Though they’re relying heavily on hurricane-related materials in their fundraising efforts, they may not be funneling all of the donations to the rebuilding effort.

“Some groups put that money to the relief effort and some groups take the money for their general operations,” Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project told the paper.

According to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, as of mid-December, New York-based charities had collected $400 million for Sandy relief efforts. But Smilowitz told the Daily News that he thinks that figure is closer to $550 million, since some groups have put money aside for non-Sandy related programs.

In an effort to boost donor confidence, and offer some transparency, Shneiderman’s office surveyed 88 charities committed to Sandy relief. Their responses to how much money they’ve raised and how they’re spending the funds have been made available on the Attorney General's Charities Bureau

The American Red Cross, an aid organization that’s repeatedly come under fire for its spending practices, said it had raised $188 million, served more than 8.7 million meals and snacks and provided more than 81,000 shelter stays as of Dec. 10.

While the Red Cross insists that the money collected will be used for emergency relief and then allocated for long-term rebuilding projects, some critics have taken issue with what the organization has qualified as “emergency relief.”

Back in November, for example, the organization spent $181,000 for some of its volunteers to stay in a swanky downtown Manhattan hotel, according to the Wall Street Journal. A spokesperson told the paper that the nonprofit got a discount on the 45 rooms and was strapped for options since the city was packed with tourists and was facing a housing crisis.

Though Gail McGovern, chief executive officer and president of the Red Cross, told NBC News that she believes her nonprofit’s response to Sandy has been “near flawless,” Smilowitz has consistently urged donors to be vigilant in investigating how nonprofits are spending their Sandy funds, no matter what they claim.

"People have been giving without finding out first what a group's capacity is to actually deliver services," Smilowitz told Reuters.



Hurricane Sandy Aftermath