Monday, May 5, 2008

A very strange battle over autism fundraising

Posted By on Mon, May 5, 2008 at 5:13 AM

Last year, Marianne Seaman threw the kind of bash only possible for well-connected rich ladies. As a Springsteen cover band rocked out in the background, 1,000 of Seaman’s friends and friends-of-friends packed the House of Blues for Cleveland Rocks Autism, an event inspired by her 12-year-old son Austin and Northeast Ohio’s dearth of research money. When the money was tallied, Seaman had raised a cool quarter-million. She then cut a check to Autism Speaks, a national organization, which planned to relay the money to Autism Treatment Network, which supposedly had a Cleveland branch. There was just one problem: There was no Cleveland branch... “I was like, ‘Are you firkin’ kidding me?’” says Seaman from her home in Gates Mills. “It was very deceitful.” Seaman tried to track down her money, but no one at Autism Speaks could tell her how much had been spent in Cleveland and how much went toward paying a Kinko’s tab in Reno. Undeterred, Seaman started her own organization, the Northeast Ohio Autism Group. But when it came time to hold an annual fundraiser, Seaman found her old nemesis had stolen her original idea. Two weeks after her benefit concert last month, Autism Speaks scheduled a carbon-copy event at the Rock Hall, cementing its status as the atomic-wedgie-giving bullies of the non-profit world. Despite all the petty competition swirling around her, Seaman remains above it all. She says she’s happy that, because of her event, Autism Speaks is now forced to specify exactly how much donated money stays local. But she does allow a little anger to creep in her tone when asked if she’d ever work with Speaks again. “No,” she says. “We're fine doing our own thing.” – Caleb Hannan

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