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 http://www.reenchantment.net. 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.

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