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Charity to donors: Please stop, you have given enough

The message Friday from one of the nation's largest charity organizations: Don't send any more money for victims of Sept. 11 _ you've given more than we know how to spend.

In the two months since terrorists toppled the World Trade Center, Americans have donated $1.2-billion to the various groups providing relief to the victims, families and communities. Yet, the groups have spent less than one-quarter of this sum, and they don't foresee spending all of it for a long time.

The September 11 Fund, an offshoot of United Way, has raised $330-million but has spent less than $50-million.

"The distribution of this money will take months and years," Joshua Gotbaum, the organization's chief executive officer, said Friday. "We're no longer soliciting new funds."

The Liberty Fund, which the American Red Cross set up to help World Trade Center victims, has raised $564-million _ of which it has spent $154-million.

The Red Cross sparked a huge fuss last month when its executives said that they would divert nearly half the money to other causes and to improvements in its infrastructure. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer threatened to sue the Red Cross if it went ahead with the plan.

At congressional hearings on the subject this week, David Borochoff, head of the American Institute of Philanthropy, testified that the Red Cross had "behaved opportunistically" and was "dishonoring the interests of donors."

On Thursday, the Red Cross relented and promised to use the Liberty Fund only for needs related to Sept. 11.

The question remains where, and to whom, all this money is going to go.

The $200-million-plus spent to date is a staggering sum by any measure. And, by all accounts, it has gone not only to those directly hurt by the attack, but also to those indirectly affected.

For instance, the September 11 Fund has given $16.5-million to a New York charity group called Safe Horizon, which in turn has written 17,000 checks to 15,000 people. The money has gone mainly to family members of those killed at the World Trade Center, but also to people who lost jobs as a result of the attack.

The fund also has given $2-million to Seedco, which provides low-interest loans to nonprofit organizations.