Government oversight of private charities — an idea opposed this week by columnist Wendy McElroy and championed by Foxnews.com host Bill O'Reilly — sparked an agressive email debate with readers split on both sides of the issue.  

Other responses to the article included ex-donors of the Red Cross who felt the need to vent their frustrations of being misinformed prior to donating their money.

Readers also said they believed the Red Cross should have to abide by the same "truth in advertising" laws that large corporations and companies adhere to in their marketing campaigns.

Here's a sample of this week's mail:

— If only 20% of the funds given are sent to the intended destination then the Red Cross is betraying, in the most cynical manner imaginable, their own life blood: the charitable givers. How many of those who gave did so for the first time in their lives?  What possible benefit does the Red Cross think they will achieve by causing such hard feelings? Regardless of their good intentions, they appear to be exploiters of the disaster for their own agenda and deceivers of the victims and general public.

— Don't be surprised when people stop supporting these organizations.  We are a generous nation, ask and we give, steal and we will fight you.  Just like Pat Robertson's 700 club, and so many other organizations that feather their own nest, I have absolutely no use for a thief or a liar. I will never give another dime to ANY charity.

— I agree with you that government  interference is not the answer. As you correctly pointed out, every time the government gets involved in anything, money gets wasted... I also agree with Bill O'Reilly that the law that allows a charity like the Red Cross to collect money for a specific use, and then channel it into other uses, should be changed. Millions of people are now finding out what I've known for years: Not much of what you contribute to public charities goes for its intended purpose.

— The government needs to stay out of the charity business.  If one just looks at the charity programs the government runs now, it takes 95 dollars to get five dollars where it's needed.  I know some charity organizations like the United Way are almost as bad, but most charities are run much better than the federal government and its overinflated bureaucracy.

— What gets me is the fact that the Red Cross went on national TV and said they would help the victims of the Sept. 11 attack and asked for donations. Do you really think that if they had reminded everyone with those same ads that only 20 - 25 % of their donation would actually go to the families, they would have received over $500 million in donations ???

— The Red Cross is no better than any of the other parasites that are trying to take advantage of these terrible events.

— While I will agree, in most cases, private charities should be left to do their work with minimum goverment involvement, I wholeheartedly agree with Bill O'Reilly in this instance. He is not looking for permenant oversight of these charities, simply some oversight to ensure that the money raised for the victims gets to the victims. You are correct, this was unprecedented, and I am sure that no one expected this amount of money to flow into relief funds.  However, as you stated, this was a special case and underlying intent of most donors was that the money go directly to the families.  Now, if they want to start raising money for their other programs or a general fund, that is fine, as long as it is clearly explained that this money will not go to the family of the victims.

— Happened to be in Utica, NY at a major fire many years ago. Two canteens, one Red Cross, one Salvation Army.  Salvation Army giving away coffee and donuts to weary firemen, Red Cross charging weary firemen for coffee and donuts. You are correct on the volunteerism aspect of the American Red Cross, but keep in mind the attitude of the Red Cross towards the "warm bodies" that volunteer. The Red Cross doesn't even bother to feed its volunteers. They are one cheap outfit! I think Bill O'Reilly is right, too. The Red Cross will most certainly give the victims' families the bare minimum they can get away with, zero being the goal, and divert the rest to such important uses as paying executives' salaries! Those families made one huge sacrifice, losing loved ones on  Sept. 11.  So what if they retire to a life style beyond our wildest dreams? Don't they deserve it? We gave  money to help the victims' families. Now, we find out that the Red Cross plans to divert most of that money to "other uses" because they have too much!

— If there are overseers that hold charities accountable, then why hasn't Jesse Jackson been held accountable for his charitable funds? Also, why did the money that the stars raise not get directed to the victims... I believe that O'Reilly has lifted the scab off a major rip-off of the American public by organizations promoting their self interest.  I think it is great that they are being challenged and I hope that accountability will result.

— Your assertions are reasonable, but I just don't care.  Semantics aside, these charities stole 80% of my money.  Poor organization and bureaucracy (as exhibited by the government) are lamentable, but blatant deceit and dishonesty (as exhibited by the charities) is unforgivable.  Federal oversight or no, I’ll never donate another penny to the Red Cross. 

— I fully agree with your assessment of private charities and believe Bill O'Reilly is doing a great disservice to charitable giving by calling for government intervention.  The term is "private" charities and that means no government bureaucrat meddling. 

— When the Red Cross advertised that the donations would go to the victims of the WTC and solicited funds on those grounds, I expected the money to be set aside and go to that benefit.  If they do not distribute ALL the funds in the Liberty Fund to those victims and families, then as far as I'm concerned the Red Cross is guilty of fraud and the government has an obligation to the citizens of the United States to fulfill the law of "truth in advertising."

— Your view can equally be applied on airport security.  Government takeover in these two areas, like so many others, will most definitely result in inefficient allocation of resources.  The governments should, instead, focus on supervision and disclosure.  As long as there are reliable scoreboards on charities and airlines/airports, let donors and customers be the judge.

— I donated, as most everyone did, and while I respect you, I would support government regulation.  This matter was simply inexcusable.  I do agree that harm would result in many areas, but a small price to pay for the greater good.  That greater good being trust.

BONUS EMAIL: 

I am an immigrant who went through the channels and one of my proudest days was when I was able to take the Citizenship Oath in March of 1999. Before all this happened, though, the INS managed to lose my student paperwork, put the school officials and me off for almost a year, told me to "consider myself a full-time student" (which means you can [only] work in a domestic setting, like a baby sitter). Then they sent me all my paperwork back (after they finally found it) and asked me to resubmit everything because it was too old!

While I was still getting all necessary forms together, the Border Patrol came to my door and told me I would have to leave the country because I was baby-sitting on a visitor's visa. I took all my paperwork to the INS, but the decision stood:  you'll need to go home and file from there. So I had to spend $800 on a round trip ticket to Germany, spent 15 MINUTES at the Embassy, got my visa, and returned the following day. Stories like mine are not the exception, but rather the rule. And while the INS and Border Patrol are chasing after legitimate immigrants, the illegal immigrants and those bound on deception are slipping through the cracks! Your stories are right on the money! Keep it up!