Friday, October 28th, 2011

Responding to Common Cause

Bob Edgar of the left-leaning activist organization Common Cause and Aaron Dorfman of the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) make a strange argument against the Philanthropy Roundtable’s recognition of Charles Koch, according to a press release the two issued this week.  They claim that Koch’s giving supports the interests of private enterprise and should instead be directed to activities Edgar and Dorfmann identify as “the public good.”

For decades, Charles and David Koch have supported the principles that help societies prosper.  The point that seems lost on Mr. Edgar is that all Americans benefit when the burden of excessive government control over their lives is lifted.  This simple and easily observable economic principle also applies to the world as a whole and it explains why no factor has lifted more people out of poverty than free market economics.  Here are the first two installments in a series of videos that we are helping produce that demonstrates this dynamic.

Economic Freedom – Episode One

Economic Freedom – Episode Two

According to its website, Dorfman’s group believes that “the most effective use of [charitable] resources [is] not to replace, even in part, the government’s…essential public services role in providing the permanent funding needed to address society’s toughest problems.”  So, it’s not just the causes that the Charles Koch  Foundation supports (like academic research and higher education) that are objectionable — it is any direct giving to those in need.  This is an odd view that is shared by  very few people, not least many of the major funders of Dorfman and Edgar themselves.   It calls to mind the apocryphal story where Marx urges Engels not to give money to beggars because it would make them less likely to join the revolution.

Edgar and Dorfman also inadvertently make the case against charitable giving altogether by claiming that tax-exempt foundations divert tax revenue from public services. That’s a puzzling  and contradictory argument coming from the heads of Common Cause and the NCRP who depend on the generosity of private foundations for their livelihoods.

But the thrust of Edgar and Dorfman’s complaint is not that they oppose private giving but that they oppose the ideas that Koch’s giving is advancing.

Edgar’s group, it should be noted, helped organize street theatre near a conference we hosted earlier this year.  That demonstration included violent, hate-filled, and even racist rhetoric aimed at us, two Supreme Court justices, and others. When pressed about it, Edgar issued a tepid apology.  Soon after, however, he filed a legally baseless and fraudulent petition to have those same  Supreme Court Justices recused from cases on which Edgar preferred a particular outcome.  Attending our seminar years before those cases arose, as the justices did, simply isn’t a legitimate reason for recusal, as many others have pointed out also.  Naturally, Edgar used both the demonstration and his frivolous petition as fodder in fundraising letters for his group.  All of this makes it a little difficult to take seriously Edgar’s concerns about people who “advocate for public policies…that help their bottom line.”

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