Acton Institute Powerblog

Greeks Bearing Gifts

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In a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Great Philanthropy Takeover” Arkansas based writer David Sanders reports on a recent conference of the nationwide Council of Foundations in his home state. Sanders’ article aligns with Michael Miller’s blog of July 30 “Healthcare – Don’t Forget The Morality Of It” and deserves your attention because of the author’s conclusion that the Obama administration “is beginning to nationalize another sector of the American economy.”

How could that happen? Well it would happen because many of those folks who head up non-profit groups that rely on OPM — other people’s money — have a tough time identifying and convincing donors to give them some. Obama is offering an alternative: Bundled packages of tax payer’s money for “shovel ready” community help projects. If you’re a struggling non-profit with an iffy mission, it’s the greatest grant available.

And Obama knows about grants because when he was a community organizer in Chicago he and his associates, including William Ayres, were able to get over $120 million including matching funds from the Annenberg Foundation to spread around to their constituents. Eventually the Annenberg people cut off their funds because no good could be attributed to the use of all the money they’d supplied, but you get the picture.

Notwithstanding the deceitfulness of that Ayres-Obama Chicago enterprise, we generally should be wary of Greeks bearing gifts.

At the NCEA convention earlier this year I introduced and listened to a former lobbyist give advice to a room full of Catholic educators on how to get a piece of the stimulus money Obama had just announced would be available for schools. Just like Larry Arnn at Hillsdale College in Michigan and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, I’m distrustful of the influence government has on curriculum and the mission of our schools and worry about the federal government’s intrusion into any enterprise. But at the NCEA event, the room was all ears to the application tricks being offered them.

That’s also what happened at the Foundation meeting in Arkansas, where as Sanders writes:

Carlos Monje, policy director of the White House’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, briefed the conference on how President Obama, who came up through the ranks of community organizing, wants to “change the ethic of service” for the country. Key to the administration achieving its desired results? Rewarding model nonprofits with federal dollars—seed capital—from the new $50 million “Social Innovation Fund.”

That phrase “ethic of service” calls to mind many things that hang on the tenets of faith to which Christians pay mind. But as we are consistently reminded by the scholars at Acton Institute, our charity is best left to the individual.

As Acton’s core principles state: “The government’s primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights. The government’s role is not to usurp free actions, but to minimize those conflicts that may arise when the free actions of persons and social institutions result in competing interests.” You might ask in this context who would declare a non-profit a proper “model” for funding or determine appropriate “social innovation?” If you said Mr. Monje you’re probably right.

Making the case to individuals for your “good deed” request is not an easy task, but it’s the only way we should be promoting the kind of Charity explicit in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

As I tell my friends in education, “Watch out for the serpent in your tent. Watch out for that Trojan Horse.”

Ken Larson Ken Larson is a businessman and writer who with his wife recently moved from their native state California to a semi-rural part of Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay. A graduate of California State University with a major in English, his eclectic career includes editing the first "reloading manual" for Sierra Bullets [something that earns him major league credibility when picking crabs with new friends on Sunday afternoons] and authoring a novel about a family's school choice decisions titled ReEnchantment, A Schoolboy's Adventure. His web site is For ten years, Ken was the only Protestant on The Consultative School Board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles and chaired their inaugural Catholic Conference on Business and Ethics in support of needy parish schools in the diocese. He continues to be active in his new community and mindful of America's civic education malaise.


  • Dee- Rochester, NY

    Mr. Larson,

    You have eloquently managed to combine the descriptives Trojan horse, serpent in your tent, usurp free actions, community organizer, ethic of service, and wariness of Greeks bearing gifts– towards the leader of this nation and current administration–all under the guise of what we Catholics whould be as followers of Jesus Christ. That is a vicious and disingenous sentiment. I obviously do not agree, but will defend your right to say it. The many faithful can still be charity conscious if they are inclined to have their taxes “bundled” in order to donate to larger causes.

    Itis only since the election that the term “community organizer” has become a dirty appelation for a worthy career. Besides, the Annenberg Foundation’s monies went towards education and schools in the Chicago area, not to constituents. Do your fact checking, please. You were simply too sly with the unsubstantiated reference, “you get the picture.” No, Mr. Obama was not distributing the Annenberg money as your article indicates.

    I hope other readers will see through your commentary that what the President is trying to do is in the best interest for the country. However, you like many, have held him to a different set of standsrds–six months compared to his predecessor’s eight year of questionable and deleterious service.

  • Dee in Rochester uses some interesting words in her response to my article above. Let’s look at some.

    1. Disingenuous: The dictionary says It means “not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.” That would mean that I’m privy to information that I have withheld. Not so. The actions of Mr. Obama and Mr. Ayres in Chicago — that part of which has not been cloistered from pubic view by the University’s Library — leads one to reasonable conclusions as to how money was used or its use abused.

    Readers are directed to a full accounting of what is known on this matter by reading some really excellent work by Stanley Kurtz at EPPC.,type.1/pub_list.asp

    I believe that Obama’s “office of social innovation” is a piece with his prior works.

    If someone sees Mr. Kurtz as a shill at George Weigle’s think tank and wishes to discredit his work, then they’re likely a less charitable Catholic than they think they are.

    2. Another word Dee uses is vicious whose synonyms include “malicious, malevolent, malignant, malign, spiteful, hateful, vindictive, venomous, poisonous, rancorous, mean, cruel, bitter, cutting, acrimonious, hostile, nasty; defamatory, slanderous; catty.” [Only girls or girly men are catty.]

    But I’m not being cruel or violent either, only looking for some truth. Mr. Obama is characterized by a large and growing segment of the U.S. population as someone who does not tell “the whole truth and nothing but.” I guess I’m just gong along with them like Dee goes along with her friends – okay?

    But there are limits to what she suggests: Dee writes:
    “The many faithful can still be charity conscious if they are inclined to have their taxes “bundled” in order to donate to larger causes.”

    Her use of the word “if” introduces conditionality into the act and says that charity can only be achieved with bundling. So much for the individual huh? She seems to like the collective. But Jesus saved souls one at a time. Remember?

    Leaving that point: if inclination was Obama’s technique to implement his wish list I might ignore the condition part. But “the power to tax is the power to destroy” and this is why many of us don’t like government in places where it can coerce behavior. [Have you read the part of Obama’s healthcare legislation that will pay for abortion terming it a right? As a “Catholic” are you inclined to allow that little bundle to occur?

    The “best interests of the country” as she terms it, conjures up a whole lot of people and a whole lot of real estate, that portion of which not already government owned – is private property. In their movie “The Birth of Freedom” Acton Institute with the help of many learned friends make the case that the individual human person is our focus. Freedom and Liberty were not achieved by slogan makers chanting “the greatest good for the greatest numbers.” That talk is utilitarian and neglects the lessons to be learned when we are guided by religious principles — in my case Christian principles.

    One messiah is enough for me.

    p.s. Dee should quit bashing Bush. She’s enough to do just keeping the new guy’s stories straight.