One Person’s Terrorist is Another’s Charity Case
When Kathleen Ann Soliah was arrested in June after a 23-year search, bail was set at $1 million. After all, the violent crimes she was accused of were very serious (as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army that had kidnapped Patty Hearst, she had allegedly planted nail bombs under police cars in retaliation for a fatal shoot-out with police). Her bail was quickly paid through the “generosity” of over 250 friends and supporters in the St. Paul, Minnesota community where she has lived for all these years, and Soliah is now free to walk the streets. Soliah had provided ample evidence that she is a risk of flight, having lived under an assumed identity for almost two decades. But not to worry. Her attorney explains, without intended irony, that “There is no way [Soliah] would violate the trust of this many people.”
When Watchdogs Don’t Bark
Watergate spawned a cottage industry of nonprofits dedicated to greater disclosure and transparency in government. Many of these groups have been at the forefront of the call for “sunshine laws” forcing government agencies to make their internal workings more open to the public. One such group, OMB Watch, was founded in 1983 to “lift the veil of secrecy shrouding the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which oversees regulation, the budget…and much more.” OMB Watch has stridently insisted upon greater government “accountability to the public” on a variety of “right to know” issues. But turnabout apparently is not fair play, as became evident when Congress recently proposed to subject federal grantees to public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act. The aforementioned zeal for “transparency” and “public accountability” evaporated as OMB Watch set to work blunting the law’s impact through changes to implementing regulations being drafted by—you guessed it—OMB. But we have to ask, if researchers at federal agencies are compelled to make public their data, why shouldn’t the same rule apply to researchers at nonprofits receiving federal research grants?
More than a decade late, merger mania has finally reached the foundation world. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) of New York, with assets of approximately $463 million, has announced that it is combining with Connecticut’s Charles E. Culpeper Foundation (1998 assets: $208 million). Why merge? Rockefeller spokeswoman Priscilla Lewis explains, “In the grand scheme of foundation endowments [Culpeper’s] is on the small side, and there was discussion of what should be done to achieve maximum impact with this relatively small endowment. The merger was one way of answering that.” Merging with RBF was only one of a range of options considered, according to Lewis, but the selection of Rockefeller may also have had something to do with the presence, on the Culpeper board, of RBF president Colin G. Campbell.
Or Are Two Heads Better Than One?
While one titan of philanthropy gets bigger, another, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, is slimming down. The foundation has announced that it will spin off just under $1.6 billion in cash and Hewlett-Packard stock to the Packard Humanities Institute, an operating foundation founded by David Woodley Packard. The only son of the late computer pioneer and philanthropist, David Packard had been a board member at the Packard Foundation for the past 35 years. According to the San Jose Mercury News, his interests (which include archaeological digs in Greece, restoration of classic films, and the electronic preservation of the letters of America’s founding fathers) no longer mesh with those of the larger foundation.
Last fall, an anonymous donor walked into the offices of a Florida ad agency and commissioned a series of thought-provoking billboard messages. But there’s a twist: each of the messages is signed “God.” In simple white writing on a black background, motorists are confronted with lines like:
- Have you read my number one best-seller?
- I don’t question your existence.
- Need directions?
- C’mon over—and bring the kids.
- That “Love Thy Neighbor” thing? I meant it.
- Tell the kids I love them.
- You think it’s hot here?
- Don’t make me come down there.
The firm put up the eight billboards listed above, plus some signs on buses. Total cost: $150,000. Then people in the billboard industry started calling. CNN did a story, prompting more calls from as far away as Israel and South Africa. The Outdoor Advertising Agency made an offer: If Smith and the anonymous donor would provide the “creative” inputs, OAA would donate the space for a major public service announcement campaign. The messages are now on 10,000 billboards in 200 cities around the country—a media buy worth $15 million. Now that’s leverage.
Who Says Giving Money Away Isn’t Hard Work?
The people at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company probably thought they were being good corporate citizens when they announced in May that they were donating $100 million to five sub-Saharan African countries to fund HIV/AIDS programs and training. Initial indications were certainly positive—UN Secretary General Kofi Annan praised them for a “remarkable instance of leadership.” Thus they must have been a bit nonplussed when the South African government effectively said “Thanks, but no thanks.” The South African Health Ministry cited a number of objections to the gift, faulting BMS for, among other things, planning to train the project’s doctors in the United States rather than in other African countries, and for the program’s emphasis on home-based health care. BMS has been working with the South African government to resolve these issues and move forward with their “Secure the Future” program. But things may not be that simple, since the philanthropic dispute may be connected to an unrelated business quarrel between the South African government and American pharmaceutical companies. This dispute concerns South Africa’s insistence that it be allowed to license its own pharmaceutical companies to manufacture cheap generic versions of the AIDS (and other) drugs that were developed and are owned by American companies like BMS. The Americans retort that even if they gave up the licensing for their products, these AIDS treatment programs require strict monitoring and supervision—that drugs alone aren’t enough.
The Trust Gods Are Weeping
John Marshall Lockhart was a Pittsburgh industrialist who, before his death in 1939, established a number of trusts to provide for Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General Hospital (AGH). With the goal of ensuring the long-term health of the hospital, Lockhart explicitly stipulated that the hospital could receive only the interest from the trusts, and was not to spend any of the principal. In doing so, Lockhart was following a common donor practice aimed at preventing grantees from dipping into the seed corn of principal whenever times get tough. Well, times are tough for AGH right now. The hospital is in the process of being taken over by West Penn Health System, and to help finance the takeover, West Penn decided to “borrow” $40 million from the Lockhart Trusts (now valued at $120 million). West Penn had to get permission from Pennsylvania’s Orphans Court to change the terms of the trusts, over the objections of descendants of John Marshall Lockhart. Says great-nephew James Edwards: “Had the donor wanted the hospital to be able to borrow the money, he’d have said so. That’s why he went to the trouble of setting it up as a trust in the first place, rather than just giving them the money. Somewhere, the trust gods are weeping.”
Steering The Ship Of City
Contrary to dire predictions, big cities are adjusting surprisingly well to the new and reformed welfare rules. A new study by the Manpower Demonstration Project Research Corp. found positive attitudes among former welfare recipients, who, according to the Associated Press, “seemed to welcome the new focus on work, saying the changes were fair and overdue.” The study, funded by eleven foundations, including Charles Stewart Mott, W. K. Kellogg, and Robert Wood Johnson, is based on in-depth interviews with welfare recipients and former welfare recipients in five of the nation’s biggest cities. Project Director Gordon Berlin explained how cities are making strong progress despite notoriously entrenched bureaucracies: “It’s a little bit like steering a ship—these big cities are hard to turn.” But now, “they have in fact, begun to turn.”
Newsweek reports on what must be an unprecedented melting-together of philanthropy, football, and fashion. Anyone who donates over $100 to domestic violence shelters qualifies to receive an angel-shaped bronze pin from the International Gem and Jewelry Show. Quantities are limited though, for a simple reason—the pins are made from the liquefied remains of O. J. Simpson’s 1972 AFC Player of the Year trophy. As Arnold Duke, originator of the idea, explains, “It takes something that once had meaning to O. J.—who was a wife batterer—and turns it into something positive.”
Big Bird Blunders
Public broadcasting stations have long denied charges of political bias in their programming. Now they have come under fire for bias in their postage. Boston’s celebrated public broadcasting channel, WGBH-TV, has been charged with swapping its mailing list with the Democratic National Committee for fundraising purposes. A spokesman for the station initially downplayed the incident, describing it as a one-time mistake committed by a new employee. But then the DNC admitted that the station had been providing them with donor information for years and had first approached the DNC about name-swapping in 1993. While WGBH insisted that they were just trying to raise money and were not behaving in a “partisan” manner, Congressman Paul Gillmor, Ohio Republican and a member of the House subcommittee that oversees public broadcasting, called for a thorough investigation, noting that we “expect public broadcasting to be nonpartisan, we expect it to be above-board, we expect it to be honest. This station is none of those.” Even Vice President Al Gore, an indirect beneficiary of the list-swapping, criticized the deal as “bad judgment.” According to the Boston Globe, the Internal Revenue Service is now investigating whether to revoke WGBH’s tax-exempt status.