Points of Light's Luster Dim as Waste Is Revealed

Article excerpt

The lone vestige of former President George Bush's Thousand Points of Light has the look of a wasteful, Washington-dependent operation.

So far, the Points of Light Foundation has received $26.6 million in federal funds - more than half its budget - while incurring a wide range of costs that amount to questionable spending, experts in the volunteer services industry say.

An examination of financial records by the Los Angeles Times shows that $22.3 million has been spent on promotions, consultants, salaries, travel and conferences. The expenses include $5.5 million to produce a television ad campaign and $1.4 million to host a celebration of community service.

By contrast, only 11 percent of the foundation's budget has been spent to provide grants to volunteer efforts across the country.

Throughout his presidency, Bush consistently promoted his "Thousand Points of Light" campaign as the antidote for hunger, homelessness and poverty. The expression signified the voluntary charitable efforts of individual Americans as a substitute for tax-supported welfare programs.

Coined during Bush's acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention, the campaign grew in popularity to become a signature of his administration. Six days a week, Bush honored someone - a so-called Point of Light - for performing exemplary volunteer work.

In 1990, Bush launched a private, nonprofit foundation to motivate every American to engage in community service.

The foundation has fallen far short of private fund-raising goals and attracted scant scrutiny from Congress. Moreover, little oversight has been exerted by chief executives from Arco, Disney, IBM, Time Warner and other organizations who answered Bush's call to guide Points of Light. Several prominent directors lost interest and rarely attended board meetings, records show.

Despite early plans to remain a small organization, the Points of Light payroll has more than tripled to $4.1 million. Foundation President Richard F. Schubert, who was hired after he resigned under pressure as head of the American Red Cross, is paid $160,000 a year. A 13-member executive management team receives average salaries in excess of $80,000.

"It's crazy," said George Romney, the former Republican governor of Michigan and one of 13 original foundation directors. "I think they've built up too big a budget. I've indicated my alarm and the need to cut back."

Susan J. Ellis, an expert and author of nine books on volunteerism, added: "There's been tons of money wasted, just wasted . . . and I don't think they can show a lot of people have volunteered."

From the outset, top leaders of the foundation vowed to phase out their reliance on government money. Instead, the organization has grown increasingly dependent on federal funds. In August, Congress awarded Points of Light a 30 percent increase in federal appropriations after - the foundation plucked $551,000 from a reserve account to meet its expenses. …