Charity with US Characteristics: how our oligarchs buy their way out of criticism

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The Koch brothers give a lot of money to universities, but on the condition that they get to approve the economics faculty. They give to public television, but only if they can cancel the airing of documentaries on climate change. They're not the only ones.

When Comcast funds the International Center for Law and Economics, the Center starts issuing position papers in support of the Comcast-Time Warner merger.

It goes from the macro- to the micro-scale. Robert Reich says that when he guest-lectured at a church about inequality, the head of the congregation asked him not to mention taxing the rich, lest he alienates a few rich worshippers whose donations kept the church going. Another time, a college president told him not to criticize the banking industry, because the school relied upon financier-trustees to keep the lights on.

As public and charitable institutions -- museums, universities, broadcasters -- are starved of capital, they can only survive by courting the super-wealthy. The money they take in depends on their ability to keep those donors happy, and that means the honest brokers of critical analysis we need get out of bed every morning with a gag already in place and both hands tied behind their backs.

A few weeks ago dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups asked that museums of science and natural history “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers.

“When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions … they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge,” their statementsaid.

Even though gift agreements by universities, museums, and other nonprofits often bar donors from being involved in decisions about what’s investigated or shown, such institutions don’t want to bite hands that feed them.

How the Koch brothers and the super-rich are buying their way out of criticism
[Robert Reich/Christian Science Monitor]

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