Thursday, November 05, 2009

Charity With A Twist

cross posted at Right Michigan

Several months ago both Michigan State University and Kalamazoo College received a letter that notified them of a generous gift. The schools were among an exclusive group of ten institutions across the country that had individually received a significant donation. Michigan State received $10 million while Kalamazoo College received $2 million.

Each college in the group was given some instruction as to how it could spend the money. A designated amount was earmarked to be used toward student financial aid while the smaller remainder could be used in any way that the college or university saw fit. Perhaps the most astonishing revelation concerning this philanthropy, aside from its sheer aggregate size, was that it was donated anonymously and there was no effort on the part of the donor to receive any conspicuous attention.

For some, attention is unnecessary. Others find attention to be a bit more, shall we say, advantageous.

In the Elizabethan Age, aristocrats traipsed into the Globe Theatre and took the most prominent and visible positions. Those that paid enough pennies to reach the upper gallery were farther away and higher off the stage than most of those who may have paid a penny or two less. Many of these high priced seats were at such an angle that the actors on stage rarely faced their most affluent and conspicuous guests. The only advantage these expensive seats had was that a person sitting above and to the immediate sides of the stage was visible to the rest of the crowd. Being seen at the Globe was important in certain circles and well worth both the price of admission and the crappy seat that went with it.

Chiefs of the Kwakwaka'wakw tribes of the Pacific Northwest often hosted elaborate potlatch ceremonies in which great efforts were made to gain prestige among other chiefs and tribes. This status was earned by the host if he could prove to his invited guests that he could afford to destroy or give away more wealth than his counterparts could. Intricate coppers, headdresses, jewelry, carvings, as well as other valuables were lavishly given away or intentionally broken, burned or thrown into the sea for this intended purpose. Wealth and status to the Kwakwaka'wakw was measured not by how much could be amassed, but rather by how much could be dispensed with.

In more contemporary times, when Sean Penn traveled to post Katrina New Orleans, he did so with spotless intentions, a boat, a few adoring fans, and his own camera crew. It was hard to discount Mr. Penn's heartfelt desire to rescue the stranded victims, though it was decidedly easier to discount his narcissistic desire to be filmed doing so.

While philanthropy can provide benefits to those receiving it, in my own little neck of the woods, philanthropy earns the giver a level of respect dependent on the giver's motivation.

Which brings us to Michigan State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer.

The press release demands our attention and our admiration:

Whitmer Donates Legislative Expense Account Money to East Lansing Schools

LANSING– State Senator Gretchen Whitmer announced today that she will donate her full legislative expense stipend for this month to the East Lansing Education Foundation. Additionally, Whitmer formally introduced bills yesterday that call for the Legislature to share in the sacrifices of Michigan’s citizens and reform the way government works.
Gretchen Whitmer might be the bighearted philanthropist she wants us to believe that she is, but she is also every bit the opportunist and grandstander that Sean Penn is, clanking her offering into the bottom of the collection plate loudly enough to make certain that those in the pews both in front and behind cannot flee from her display of generosity.

While Whitmer's in-district expenses might not be reimbursed for the next few months because evil Republicans refuse to cave in to the punitive taxation policies preferred by Democrats like Whitmer, her expense stipend will be invested in more important commodities than gasoline or luxurious French manicures--perhaps a few school books along with all the potential votes that a little well aimed and very public donation might buy.

As it turns out, the East Lansing School District received its own letter notifying it of some soon to arrive philanthropy. It was such a gosh darn nice letter too that it was posted on the Michigan Senate Democrats' website, I assume at the insistence of the school district as an example of concise grammar rather than any attention it might accidentally garner the selfless Gretchen Whitmer. In fact, I'm certain Gretchen would have given serious thought to anonymously donating the taxpayer's money to her school of choice if not for that overbearing good conscience of hers.
I cannot, in good conscience, accept this allotment while my colleagues balance our state's budget on the backs of our children. [What, don't they have desks and conference tables down there in Lansing? ed.] While this contribution is certainly not enough to make schools whole, it is something to reflect the importance of your efforts to provide children a quality education necessary for the world of tomorrow.
It often does boil down to conscience now, doesn't it? Here we have a state senator who happens to be blessed with just enough conscience to deny the acceptance of what she believes is ill-earned money given to her for deficient achievement, but who also happens to lack just enough conscience to avoid giving it away again without forcing a loud attention gathering cough immediately before its donation hits the collection plate.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? Or more aptly, if a donation is made to a deserving entity while not being shamelessly promoted to score cheap political points with an otherwise unaware public, can the organization still enjoy spending the money?

By my thinking I suppose it can, though I'm certain it doesn't make nearly as much grating noise.

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