One of the more useful tools on the Internet is Open Secrets. This is where the Center for Responsive Politics tracks where the money in politics comes from, and who gets it. Playing "gotcha" with Open Secrets is a popular parlor game in Washington: The idea is that political campaigns can become larger than life—so large, in fact, that they need independent watchdogs.
Welcome to HumaneWatch. This is a serious and sober effort, and it's long overdue.
Sometimes, non-governmental organizations can also become so powerful that they stop being responsive to the people they’re supposed to serve.
And even charities with the best reputations aren’t immune to making mistakes. In the wake of 9/11, local Red Cross chapters kept buckets of cash instead of earmarking the funds for Ground Zero and Pentagon recovery efforts. Heads rolled. And the former chief executive of the United Way’s Washington, DC chapter went to prison in 2004 following an accounting scandal.
There are groups today that keep watch over government agencies (OMBWatch and the National Taxpayers Union, for instance); over the press (Media Matters and the Media Research Center); and over universities (Accuracy in Academia and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education).
Obviously, this list could go on and on. And most of these groups are partisan to some extent. But they all shine priceless sunlight on things that gargantuan institutions would rather keep hidden.
The dog-watchers at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) need their own watchdog too. HSUS now has an annual budget around the size of an NFL payroll. It has become too big and too unaccountable. Someone has to pay closer attention.
This blog is an attempt to make sense of what’s going on inside that sprawling organization.
Is the Humane Society of the United States all good? All bad? The truth probably lies somewhere in between. And there are many conflicting assessments of its performance.
The American Institute of Philanthropy gave HSUS a “C-minus” grade in December 2009, reflecting its high operational costs and inefficient fundraising. But the Charity Navigator service gives HSUS a four-star assessment. (Many commenters there seem to disagree with this score.) [update, April 1, 2010: Charity Navigator has downgraded HSUS.]
Worth magazine has called HSUS both one of the “worst-managed” U.S. charities, and one of America’s “most fiscally responsible.”
Who are you supposed to believe?
Charity-rating services are like blunt instruments, evaluating animal rights groups with the same tools used to check up on Planned Parenthood and the Salvation Army. They really don’t dig very deep into anyone’s programs, and they don’t look at much beyond a tax return.
In HSUS’s case, there appears to be a good deal to find.
Animal lovers, animal watchers, animal eaters, animal owners, animal professionals, and the animal-obsessed should all feel welcome in this corner of the blogosphere.
Please contribute your thoughts, your materials, and your suggestions. You can e-mail us at [email protected]. There’s also a Post Office Box set up in Washington where you can send hard-copy materials of interest.