Charity Begins With Neil Rogers? (October 28, 2000)

Beggars can be choosy.

Neil Rogers has raised more than a million dollars for local charities during the past decade by selling CDs and tapes of the humorous bits from his talk show. The past couple of years, key chains with sound bites of Rogers’ pet phrases were added to the list of goodies. The WQAM (AM 560) talk host salts the campaign with a $10,000 personal check to underwrite the production of the giveaways.

Under the circumstances, you might think being chosen as the beneficiary of this largesse would be akin to having Ed McMahon knock on your door on Super Bowl Sunday. Not so. Planned Parenthood, this fall’s charity, is the third group Rogers has worked for because of dissatisfaction on one end or the other.

Camillus House was the first to bite the hand feeding its needy. What has become an annual fund-raiser started in 1990 with a call from a listener, who asked Rogers for a tape of a comedy bit. Rogers agreed to send it if the listener made a contribution to fight homelessness. Requests and donations snowballed from there. By 1993, Rogers was raising more than $150,000 for the Miami shelter. This bought an awful lot of hot meals for Miami’s homeless and street people.

Nonetheless, Camillus House cut its ties to Rogers in 1994 for petty reasons that were allowed to supersede all the good being done. Camillus House is operated by the Catholic Church and some church officials didn’t like the racy material on Rogers’ tapes. There also were expressions of annoyance from the church hierarchy, which chafed at the buffeting taken by organized religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular on Rogers’ program.

Rogers, who was raised Jewish but proclaims he is an atheist, still beats up on religion, and the tapes are as racy as ever. The only thing accomplished by the split is that Camillus House has substantially less each year to help the needy.

Camillus House’s loss was a gain for Center One, a Broward facility for AIDS victims, which became Rogers’ designated charity in 1994. He concedes that most of those who contribute at least $20 couldn’t care less if he were raising money for the KKK or the PLO. They want the CD and key chain. However, Rogers, who is gay, noticed a significant downturn in the amount coming in once he switched from Camillus House to Center One — and he suspects homophobia was a factor.

“With Camillus House, the envelopes used to come in by the dozens every day. With Center One, we’d get a few here and there. To a lot of people, AIDS is a gay thing.”

The first year with Center One, contributions dropped off to about $100,000. “There’s no question there was a lot of prejudice involved,” Rogers says.

Another telltale sign, Rogers says, is that the Camillus House campaign used to elicit numerous checks, some sizable, asking for nothing in return. With Center One as the cause, the vast majority of checks were from fans expecting The Best of Neil in return.

This led to the breach in the relationship. Rogers ended it this year because he sensed a gradual erosion in Center One’s commitment to the drive. “They weren’t sending the stuff out. They kept saying they would, but they didn’t. People send in money, they expect to get the CD. I couldn’t get any cooperation and it was my name on the line.”

Rogers can be guilty of being a choosy beggar himself. He told his audience the other day that he would not accept a four-figure check from an annual donor because of the man’s political affiliation. Rogers has been pushing Al Gore and the contributor is a backer of George W. Bush.

The situation is a bit more complicated than he made it on the air, Rogers says. Planned Parenthood has been taking out newspaper ads critical of Bush. The would-be donor said he’d be withholding his check until after Election Day so that the money could not be used against his candidate. Rogers told the man that if this is his attitude, he can keep his money.

Rogers doesn’t anticipate raising money for any cause by the time the next presidential election rolls around. The sweetheart deal he signed last spring, which gives him the entire summer off as well as four weeks scattered throughout the year, extends four years. There will not be another extension, he vows. “I’m finally getting out of this business.”

At the rate things are going, he might have run out of charities by then anyway.

Copyright: Copyright 2000 Sun-Sentinel Company