My friend and colleague Bill O’Reilly is doing an admirable job keeping the heat on the charities that have raised $1.4 billion for the victims of the World Trade Center attack.

O’Reilly, supported by some excellent reporting in the New York Post, hammers away on the point that less than 10 percent of the $1.4 billion has actually been distributed to the grieving families. Still, the money continues to pour in because Americans are the most generous people on earth.

“There are approximately 6,000 families involved here,” O’Reilly writes. “Fifteen thousand American kids have lost a parent. That is not an overwhelming number. In fact, if you divide 6,000 by 160 charities, it comes out to less than 38 families per charitable organization.”

It’s a scandal, indeed. But here’s where I part company with O’Reilly on this issue.

He says the problem is that one charity doesn’t know what the other is doing – that there is no “central controlling authority.”

That’s a nice theory. The only problem is that it’s wrong.

The real problem with the Big Charities involved in this debacle – Red Cross, United Way and the like – is that they do conduct their pseudo-charitable operations under command-and-control bureaucracies that resemble nothing more than the inefficient federal government model.

And guess what? Government oversight won’t help alleviate the problem. It will worsen it – creating more paperwork, more administrative procedures, more red tape.

I founded a charity and directed one for many years – in my spare time. So I don’t write about this in the theoretical realm. I know what is involved in creating a 501-c-3 corporation, getting a tax-exemption, raising money, directing expenditures.

I would never do it again. Why? Because of the red tape, because of the government hassles, because of the obstacles placed in your way deliberately by government.

And that was a small charity.

Big Charity is worse. Not only do they have to deal with the selective government oversight, they have the problems that any big bureaucracies have – they move slowly, at virtually a snail’s pace, they act impersonally, they are big, unwieldy machines that often forget they are actually in the business of helping individuals.

In fact, the Big Charities will tell you flat-out that they do not help individuals. They give money to other organizations, which, in turn, are supposed to help people. At every step of the way, of course, you have administrative overhead, paperwork, more red tape. Only a pittance of the donations you give to those Big Charities ever trickles down to the recipients, the victims, the individuals who need help.

Giving to Big Charity is just like paying taxes. Don’t expect that your money is really going to do any good. It does not. Most is wasted, squandered, misused, given to people who have no business getting money, redistributed in ways you could never imagine.

This is the reality of Big Charity. It’s a joke. It’s a scandal. It’s a crying shame. It may make you feel good to write that check, but if you ever found out what happened to the money, you’d be angry. I guarantee it.

So what’s the answer?

The answer is individuals helping individuals. Oftentimes, people in crisis need much more than money. They need a friend. They need comfort. They need prayer. They need counseling. They need a helping hand. They need someone to talk to. They need love. Big Charity can’t and won’t offer any of those things.

Only individuals can – or small charities. They do a much better job – though their work is made more difficult by government oversight, as anyone involved will tell you.

So, let me commend Bill O’Reilly for his work in exposing the problem. But let me caution him against demanding government get involved in this mess. Government created the mess – and can and will only make it worse.

Let me conclude with one controversial suggestion: Don’t send any more money to the Big Charities raising money on behalf of victims of the World Trade Center disaster or any other worthy cause. The money will never get to its destination. If you want to help victims of this disaster, help someone you know who has been affected. Help them directly. Bypass the middleman.

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