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    ExxonMobil Limits Ties to United Way

    Mismanagement at D.C. branch of the charity "have raised serious questions," oil company to offer employees a choice of charitable organizations.

    FAIRFAX, Va. -- Exxon Mobil Corp., which operates a retail network of some 20,000 convenience stores nationwide, said it would not to use the United Way of the National Capital Area as its sole workplace fundraiser, making it the first major employer in the Washington region to distance itself from the troubled charity.

    The decision was conveyed to United Way officials Friday, just two days after the charity's representatives had appealed to executives of some 20 major area corporations, including ExxonMobil, for a 30-day grace period while the organization continued to alter some of its management and financial practices, The Washington Post reported.

    However, ExxonMobil, which said it still has faith in the United Way nationally, decided that the local affiliate is too embattled by allegations of mismanagement and misuse of funds to continue a one-on-one relationship. Instead, the company, with 3,500 employees locally, will offer workers alternatives for their charitable payroll deductions, though they can still donate to United Way if they wish, a company spokeswoman said yesterday.

    ExxonMobil is the third local group to alter its ties with the regional United Way, whose troubles have forced it to postpone its fall fundraising campaign for a month. Last week, the Washington Redskins suspended their participation in a community event known as the "Hometown Huddle," and earlier, the American Bankers Association announced that it was pulling out of this year's United Way campaign.

    "ExxonMobil is still a strong corporate supporter of United Way nationally, and we view the United Way as the best vehicle for employee charitable campaigns," company spokeswoman Prem Nair told The Post. "However, recent developments regarding the United Way of the National Capital Area have raised serious questions about the United Way's performance and governance. For us, these in turn raise questions for our 2002 campaign."

    ExxonMobil contributions to the Washington arm of the local United Way totaled $1.26 million in the most recent fundraising drive -- the largest amount from any single company to the local branch, United Way leaders announced in January.

    Overall, the regional United Way raised about $90 million last year, from some 300,000 private-sector and government employees. A spot on the regional United Way's board of directors had been left open for an ExxonMobil representative, but the company has held off on filling it.

    Norman Taylor, who heads the local United Way, yesterday expressed concern over ExxonMobil's decision and said he hopes other large companies will stand by his organization. United Way officials have promised to report back to the executives by Sept. 15.

    Allegations of widespread problems at the local charity first surfaced last summer, but its leaders dismissed the accusations as unfounded. Among the allegations: that executives charged thousands of dollars in expenses without submitting proper paperwork, and that the group embellished its fundraising totals, withheld funds from local charities and inappropriately paid a former executive his pension before he retired, The Post reported.

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