President Bush on Monday enlisted his two predecessors to lead an effort to raise money from individuals, corporations and foundations in the United States for disaster relief in the nations devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami.
Seeking to help the millions of people afflicted by the calamity and continuing to rebut criticism that the United States was slow in its response, Bush asked his father, George Bush, the 41st president, and Bill Clinton, the 42nd, to work together to augment with private money the $350-million in government funds that the administration has pledged.
"We're showing the compassion of our nation in the swift response," Bush said, flanked by the two former presidents in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. "But the greatest source of America's generosity is not our government. It's the good heart of the American people."
The response that Bush asked his predecessors to nurture got under way within hours of the earthquake and tsunami on Dec. 26, as individuals and corporations sent donations pouring into relief agencies. Among other donors, Mattel, the toy company, gave $250,000 to Save the Children through its foundation, and Citigroup allocated $3-million to be divided equally among the Red Cross, local relief organizations in the affected countries and the long-term rebuilding effort.
Many companies were able to respond within 24 hours through their offices and employees in the countries that were affected. Others, like Amazon.com, have turned themselves into fundraising auxiliaries for charities, using their influence with their customers to attract donations.
On his first full day back in Washington after a week of vacation at his home in Crawford, Texas, Bush appeared at the White House with his father and Clinton, who then accompanied him and Laura Bush on condolence visits to the embassies of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. At the Defense Department, officials said the United States was planning to dispatch the Mercy, a Navy hospital ship based in San Diego, to Indonesia, where it will provide 250 beds for disaster victims.
The White House did not set a goal on the campaign by the former presidents to seek private money. Officials said the senior Bush and Clinton would travel around the country to encourage giving by a wide array of donors. The officials said the two ex-presidents would work closely with the USA Freedom Corps, established by the administration three years ago to promote volunteerism.
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