Ray D. Madoff in an Op Ed in the NY Times:
THE latest news from the Palace, that Leona Helmsley left instructions that her charitable bequest of as much as $8 billion be used for the care and welfare of dogs, rubs our noses in the tax deduction for charitable gifts and its common vehicle, the perpetual private foundation. Together these provide a mechanism by which American taxpayers subsidize the whims of the rich and fulfill their fantasies of immortality.
Should there be a law against, say, establishing a perpectual foundation to care for dogs, or to maintain a useless monument to some long dead Pharonaic donor? Do we as tax payers get to second guess the donor's charitable purpose? Within what limits? And if we do start decreeing what is and is not suitable, where does that tend? Will the ACLU Foundation be ruled out? NAACP? Act Up? Code Pink? Heritage? Hudson? Harvard and Yale? (since they are so rich)?
I am inclined to prefer a society that gives donor's wide sway in just how idiosyncratic their philanthropic efforts might be. Better that wild diversity than a government bureau with political appointees ruling gifts in and ruling gifts out.
I can see the rationale for encouraging gifts for the benefit of the poor, but I wonder if that does not become yet another excuse for defunding government programs and shifting the burden to individual donors, who may in turn slough it off, and decide to keep their money in the family, further concentrating dynastic wealth.
How to discourage billions to dogs? Well, that is what satire is for, and other forms of public contumely and shaming. Shame on Leona for her poor judgment! But let her have her folly.