By Dom Serafini
Among the billionaires who’ve announced plans to give away some of their fortunes to charity, is Los Angeles-based Eli Broad (who was unsuccessful in his bid to buy the Tribune Co.). Broad has already donated $1 billion, and he’s now planning to give away even more, following in the footsteps of Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore’s $7 billion give-away, Bill Gates’ $30 billion philanthropic pledge and a $40 billion charity endowment from U.S. investor Warren Buffett.
Naturally, pet causes are the same: public education, arts, poverty, environment, research, health, etc. In my view all of this represents a great waste of money, resources and social responsibility.
According to some reports, Americans donate about $240 billion to charity every year, but have nothing to show for it. Except in some special cases that are the exception and not the rule, those billions fail to generate even a blip in the societal improvement chart. Just think of Ted Turner’s donation to the bureaucratic “black hole” of the United Nations.
But this peculiar form of altruism is not just limited to Americans, as the U.K.’s Richard Branson demonstrated with his $3 billion donation to global warming awareness programs.
The U.S., like many other countries, has the fortune, riches, wealth and capacity to take care of its problems by itself if the political system would allow it.
Right now, lobbies that represent special interests and influence politicians control the U.S. social fabric. So, education problems go unsolved to aid the military-industrial complex; the environment and climatic changes are in direct opposition to the oil industry’s interests; safety, law and order go against the lobby for the firearms sector; general health is in opposition to HMOs; and good media regulations counter corporate plans.
We all know that corporate interests cannot be stopped unless they are counterbalanced with equally powerful consumer and social groups, which don’t yet exist and never will (imagine environmentalists battling the $650 billion-a-year oil industry!).
Special interests also control regulatory agencies. According to stock market tracker Eric Janszen, for example, “The hyper-growth phase of an asset bubble cannot develop when rules and regulations governing a market are effectively enforced… Regulation abdication happens when the government lacks the political will to regulate it.”
So under these circumstances, what are billionaires to do for the history books? Well, why not invest excess money in changing the electoral process in order to foster all their countries’ potentials?
And how can this be done? Well, first, they should help neutralize special interest power by simply creating a system where money from lobbies would be shunned, since Constitutional rights can’t outlaw them.
After all, the problems that pet charities are trying to solve are direct consequences of the special interests’ influence over the political process.
Today, in order to run for a two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives, candidates need at least $2 million. For the six-year Senate term a candidate needs $6 million. This is money that special interest groups are readily willing to provide. Some of the aforementioned $240 billion should go to those politicians who accept donations under the condition that they:
• Do not ever accept special interest money (penalty would be to repay the donation 100 times.
• Once in power, the elected officials should foster laws restricting special interest money going to politicians and enact public campaign financing.
Those two simple rules could bring more positive changes to all sectors of society than all the world’s philanthropic money combined. Why? Because, once the special interest groups can no longer buy the political process, political efforts will be for the common good. And, in the grand scheme of things, the cost for this drastic social improvement is minimal: less than one percent of the yearly charitable contributions, or about $1.7 billion at the U.S. Federal level, which includes presidential elections.
It is interesting to note that the major philanthropists tend to be politically involved. Indeed, current Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, was elected with Broad’s support. New Univision owner Haim Saban’s large contributions to the Democratic Party are well known, as are most of Hollywood aristocracy’s such as Oprah Winfrey.
Unfortunately, all philanthropists tend to get involved with politics only to reaffirm the status quo, and instead of being part of the solution, they become part of the problems created by special interests, and donations to various causes become no more than band-aids.