Have charities become money-launderers, knowingly accepting stolen goods? So far over 80 federal and state legislators who took funds from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff have rushed to send “suspect money” to charities. While some of these funds fittingly went to Native American organizations—since tribal officials were the source of much of the corrupt thieves’ wealth—the Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, American Heart Association, Pentagon Memorial Fund, Christian missions, veterans organizations, hurricane relief agencies, animal shelters, social service groups and more have benefited from the hasty unloading of campaign contributions and other compromising lobbyist largesse.
Does dedicating the fruits of crime to a charitable purpose cleanse them of their taint? Does it absolve those who profited from the original crime and might even have been complicit in its commission? Does it conveniently bring the matter to a speedier close in the public’s mind, taking some of the heat off possible unindicted coconspirators? Does it remove an obligation to make whole the victims of crime, no matter how needy and naive they might be? So it would seem!
While I have heard some argue that there is little “clean money,” it’s hard for me to believe that so many nonprofit organizations have failed to draw some lines here. Too few (beyond the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy) have called for inquiry into how Abramoff was able to go unchecked in his use of nonprofits and foundations as active components in his corruption machine. Now, too many abet politicians trying to scramble out of the mud in their desperate stretch to find higher ground.
Aren’t charities supposed to be grounded in the best of values? Beyond services, shouldn’t we expect moral leadership from the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, particularly in times when other public and private institutions fail us? Shouldn’t we insist on it?