While the Bush administration has been fighting a rearguard action against accusations of stinginess, ordinary Americans, Hollywood celebrities and corporations have been opening their wallets to donate money to the tsunami relief effort. Many relief agencies have described the level of donations as unprecedented.
The American Red Cross has so far taken US$79 million while Oxfam America has received US$12 million. Another US based charity, Doctors Without Borders, has received US$20 million. Save the Children, which usually gets around 200 calls a day, is receiving 1,500 a day.
"This could surpass the outpouring of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia," said an Oxfam spokesman.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy newspaper said an early tally of donations to major charities had reached at least US$163 million. But that is small compared with the outpouring following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US three years ago, when Americans gave US$2.3 billion.
The actor Sandra Bullock has spearheaded the Hollywood drive, donating US$1 million to the American Red Cross. The amount matched her donation to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. She said: "I know this in no way alleviates the enormous amounts of pain and loss experienced by those who have suffered from the tsunami, but I hope it can make a difference."
Leonardo Di Caprio, who starred in the 2000 film The Beach set on the Thai island of Phi Phi, also gave an unspecified amount to Unicef, a spokesman for the actor said.
The rock group Linkin Park gave US$100,000 to the Red Cross and is asking fans to give cash via its Web site.
The television network NBC meanwhile is planning a telethon featuring Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker and Will and Grace actor Debra Messing.
President George W. Bush enlisted his father and another former president, Bill Clinton, on Monday to encourage private donations. The administration's initial offer of US$15 million in aid was widely criticized as too meager while Bush was criticized for spending three days at his Texas ranch before making any public comments. The White House has since committed US$350 million.
Jeff Appleman, a California immigration attorney, encouraged partners at his firm to match workers' donations.
"It's like American foreign policy has been left to the people," he told the San Francisco Chronicle.