A very strange battle over autism fundraising


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


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.