F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
August 20, 2000
Federal Funding Foils Philanthropy

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

The best thing government can do for philanthropy is to stay out of it.

"There's no getting around the fact that philanthropy and government are competitors," declares author James Payne. "They are each systems for addressing public needs. To the extent that government is seen as the system for solving community problems," he warns, "philanthropy will be crowded out and viewed as a trivial, even pointless, endeavor. With the nation now looking to government to address so many problems, it is not surprising that philanthropy is relatively weak and distorted."

In a recent issue of Alternatives in Philanthropy, a monthly publication of the Capital Research Center, Payne complains that "government so dominates the problem-solving scene that most philanthropists do not seek to solve problems themselves. Their orientation is to help government solve problems. They fund studies to publicize the need for more government action," he remarks. "They fund pressure groups that seek to expand government's role. And they pour funds into government agencies and programs -- even failing and dysfunctional ones."

Payne recommends "barring government from involvement in most philanthropic activities. This policy already exists in one field," he notes, "and the results are impressive. Since its founding," Payne observes, "America has prohibited government from providing aid to religion. The result," he points out, "is that churches and other religious institutions have engaged in a remarkable outpouring of generosity marked by widespread innovation and experimentation in helping the needy."

Eager to "establish other areas where the government may not provide financial support," Payne suggests starting with the arts. "The arts are already supported largely by philanthropy," he affirms. "Unfortunately, this support is inhibited by the fact that government also funds the arts. Many people reason that, since their tax dollars support the arts, their own generosity is neither needed nor appropriate," says Payne. "It would be very helpful," he concludes, "for government to adopt a policy of 'no funding' for the arts."

U.S. corporations contribute to the folly of federally subsidized philanthropy by supporting "big-government advocacy groups even though their activities are far from what most people consider charitable," comments Christopher Yablonksi in the Capital Research Center's annual report Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy. "Traditional private charities serve people in need and seek the betterment of local communities," he explains. "Many of the most effective are faith-based or depend primarily on volunteers. These groups are a vital component of American civil society," Yablonski affirms. "By contrast," he notes, "the nonprofit Left considers advocacy for expanded government a more vital form of charity."

Yablonski urges the officers of publicly-owned companies to make philanthropic decisions more carefully, and to disclose all charitable contributions. "Corporate leaders who unwittingly or secretly fund a political agenda of new regulations, increased taxes, and government spending on ineffective social programs are cheating their shareholders," he concludes. "A company's managers can use philanthropy to protect their shareholders' investment and benefit traditional charity," Yablonski advises. "They also can support public affairs organizations committed to limited government and free markets. Too often," he laments, "managers miss these real opportunities and fall for the sanitized rhetoric of the nonprofit Left."

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