Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tell me how to spend that money

"Who polices America's philanthropists?". This is the question posed by Financial Times writer Holly Yeager in an article entitled, "Concern over scrutiny of do-it-all philanthropists".

Recent large-scale commitments to philanthropic institutions made by the likes of Warren Buffett have "raised concerns about governance and regulation and fuelled a sense that increased public accountability might be necessary."

Of course, government regulation! Why didn't we think of that before? You there, don't look glum. They've been nice enough to let you keep almost half of your money. Now it's time for you to smile and sit up straight as the helpful policy makers tell you how to staff your charitable organization and make sure you actually spend some of that dough.

Just in case you're not convinced, we've lined up some experts to tell you how it is. Listen up, Moneybags!

Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's public policy institute and former executive director of the Center for Community Change, a liberal advocacy group, said the gift should be seen in the context of President George W. Bush's administration, and its effort to reduce the role of the federal government.

"Because of the intense media coverage on this event, it may give the public a feeling that
philanthropy is the answer to future problems, that the government is less important, and that philanthropy can fill the holes in the social safety net being made by this administration," he said. "I think that would be unfortunate."

Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy, a liberal advocacy group, echoed that concern. "I hope they aren't unintentionally signalling a philanthropy-can-do-it-all approach," he said.

I guess he's signalling a belief in the "government-should-do-it-all approach". See, I added the hyphens, thereby encapsulating his viewpoint and denouncing it all at once. Two can play at that game.

Here's a shockingly out of date, laissez faire concept: you wanna make rules about how a charity should be run? Go out and make some money and start up an organization of your own!

When he made his announcement, Mr Buffett explained his confidence in the Gates Foundation's international public health efforts in simple terms. "I think Bill and Melinda Gates will do a better job managing the money than the federal government," he said.

Well, damned if they won't try to manage it for you.