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New Investigation of Finances: March of Dimes Denies Donor Requests on Experiments

The March of Dimes has again managed to frustrate donors concerned about the welfare of animals and has become mired in allegations of financial impropriety.

The March of Dimes has taken in nearly $700 million for birth defects at its annual WalkAmerica fund-raising walks since 1970. While the charity has pumped millions into researchers’ bank accounts, the rates for many birth defects are going up, not down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked 38 different birth defects over a ten-year period and found that 27 have increased, 9 have stayed the same, and only 2 have dropped.

In 1995, PCRM revealed that the March of Dimes had funded shocking animal experiments, including sewing closed the eyes of kittens, giving cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol to animals, and causing brain damage to animals. At first, charity spokespersons denied its involvement in such experiments. However, it has since acknowledged its role in these experiments, and shows no signs of stopping its animal experiment programs.

The Better Business Bureau, the National Charities Information Bureau, and the Combined Federal Campaign found that the charity was wrong to deny its funding of these experiments. At least one March of Dimes office has continued to give out misinformation. On November 6, 1996, Brett DeVore of the March of Dimes Cedar Rapids office repeated the old denial of the charity’s involvement with cat eyelid-sewing experiments in a letter to a concerned citizen.

Donors who still wanted to support the March of Dimes but did not want to support animal experiments were left with one choice: to mark their donations “not to be used for animal experiments.” It is a common practice for charities to honor donor restrictions on the use of their donations.

However, March of Dimes seems to have thrown a wrench in there, too. Dick Leavitt of the charity’s communications department wrote, “It’s true that our policy is not to accept restricted (designated) donations for WalkAmerica.”

PCRM has asked the Better Business Bureau, the National Charities Information Bureau, and the Combined Federal Campaign to look into the charity’s use of funds in ways that appear to be contrary to donors’ wishes, and the apparent continued misinformation to donors.

Many birth defects are caused by poor prenatal care and by exposure to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. PCRM holds that the March of Dimes should put all of its resources into prenatal education, prenatal care, and human population studies to track down birth defect causes.

Given the March of Dimes’ continuing animal experiment program and its apparent refusal to honor donor requests that donations not go to such uses, many donors will be more comfortable supporting other charities instead.

The fate of other March of Dimes donations has come under scrutiny. The New York Times reported on December 23, 1996, that 85 percent of the money children put into candy and gumball machines to support the March of Dimes was kept by the vending company, which also kept much of the remainder that the charity was supposed to take in. The charity has been slow to recoup the money.

According to records for 1995, March of Dimes president Jennifer Howse’s annual salary was $200,184, plus benefits.


Spring 1997

 Spring 1997
Volume VI
Number 2

Good Medicine

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