A philanthropic gift is an odd bargain between donor and the public. A curmudgeon who, say, hates everything except money, power and control learns that he must through estate tax give up 50% of what he owns for redistribution, not only to the Armies of Freedom, but to the undeserving poor whose starving children encumber the wheels of his Escalade. Waxing wroth, and receiving good counsel, he makes a big gift to a private charitable foundation that he, as he sees it, can control from the grave. While his philanthropic goals may be rudimentary or nonexistent, while he may even be a sociopath, he may visualize a society, not unlike a banana republic in which the rich and their lackeys rule a plundered nation with unhindered hand. Fate, or Fortune, however, intervenes; the foundation is taken over in time by those who actually have a social conscience, and funds are used, say, to promote campaign finance reform, and so frustrate the founder's plutocratic ambition. The Vanity of Human Wishes comes to mind. God or the fates make monkies of us all. And the bargain struck by a curmudgeon for crafty, self-interested reasons, actually ends up saving the body politic from mean-spirited rich people like him. God works in mysterious ways.
Yet, those who lackey wealth, and would have it prevail on every front, cry foul! Martin Wooster, Bill Schambra, and Mark Tapscott among others would protect the dead curmudgeon's intention without ever raising the larger question of the public interest, a question that may well not have interested the founder either. Yet the public is party to the gift, since it granted tax benefits to the donor.
My thoughts as a practitioner are:
Donors should think carefully how to work their will.
Donors should think even more carefully about elevating their own ideals.
The donor's intentions can be small-minded, crabbed, selfish, or blind. The proper role of a good advisor is not just to serve as shill or servant, but to be a kind of Morals Tutor, providing a corrective lash. Or at least every King needs a Clown among the Courtiers. And the Kingdom deserves no less.
As the miscreant, on an endorphin high, his face streaming with tears of joy, kisses the lash, so must the donor, but even more so must those who give nothing much at all.
What is sad is to see people as intelligent as Tapscott, Wooster and Schambra whose highest ideal seems to be making the case for the rich and honoring their intentions no matter how debased and degrading they might be. Their ideal of a good foundation is one in which money works for money forever, dribbling grants to scribblers to pen these wealth-serving screeds with tax favored dollars, at the expense of the general public who are screwed twice: Not only do they give up the tax dollars, but what they get in return is plutocratic propaganda.
I realize that I have just left myself open to a disquisition (via Freidman and Hayek) on how serving the rich is serving us all. I would be happy to post that essay, if Bill Schambra wants to write it, at Rooster Foundation: Crowing in the New American Century. Candidia would be honored and so would Smoky Joe. Unfortunately, it is not a paying gig. Some things we do for the good of all. In fact, if Bill is busy, I will write it myself, if he can fax me the talking points from Headquarters.