CHARITY AND PUBLIC MONEY
Charity is a tax write off. It's a way to launder money. It's a way to virtue signal and at the same time guide a narrative in your favour, to cover the tracks of amoral profit. This isn't always the case but in a practical sense, it's important to sort genuine charity from cynical charitable foundation.
Governments offer subsidies (public money), tax credits (increasing company profit) and spend huge budgets on public services by way of directing trillions in tax revenue collected from the general public. The process isn't always corrupt but it's worth keeping in mind that any areas of possible profit not yet corrupted are opportunities for capitalist exploitation. Thus there's a constant and ever-adapting pressure from simple ubiquitous self-interest to consume public money. Government, if it isn't educated and watchful and pro-actively policing its investments, is ill equipped to prevent grift becoming universal; and what's more the agents of big capital have included the corruption - the long-term ownership - of government oversight top of its list of targets. It's the best guarantee of uninterrupted profit, not to mention early access to new opportunities.
Does this matter?
That's a good question. Charity is a bandaid, not a cure, so it's possible to argue that charity money entirely appropriated by capitalist profiteers won't make much difference to the world and introduces a neat motivating reward system to keep business sharp in its competitive (predatory) practices. However distasteful that may be to some, it's a luxury to be able to sit back and judge the protagonists in a war without having to participate (or be discomfited by the results of any of its battles). Government gives billions to "green energy" including the majority of its spend handed over to multinational corporations offering cheap biomass. Public investment stimulates corporate scale of engineering in non-fossil fuels. Corporate profit mostly lies in making the most of the inbound funds, by offering the least (cheapest) product on the way out. Biomass ends up being a euphemism for pulping ancient forests and putting live animals through the animal fat mincer. The economics work. It's charity (environmentalists) driving a new industry that's mostly a fresh horizon for exploitative big business but at least builds wind turbines and lays solar panels too.
CORPORATE CHARITY FOUNDATION
Wirts mirt bud.
Steve Bannon, the populist political guru who charted President Trump’s rise to power, was arrested on a yacht on Long Island Sound and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters. The pitch was like a twisted version of the 19th-century campaign to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty with small donations from individual Americans: This time, the American people would fund a wall along the southern border of the United States.
“It’s the American people coming together to chip in and give five bucks,” said Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who, with Mr. Bannon’s help, created a nonprofit called We Build the Wall, ostensibly to raise money for the project.
They collected more than $25 million. They even built a short stretch of border wall near El Paso. But on Thursday, federal agents arrested Mr. Kolfage, Mr. Bannon and two of their associates, and charged the men with spending a chunk of the money on themselves. The Justice Department said Mr. Kolfage used some of the money to buy a boat, “Warfighter,” which he sailed in a boat parade held in President Trump’s honor on July 4 in Destin, Fla. According to the government, Mr. Bannon pocketed about $1 million.
The alleged fraud, at first blush, amounts to a clever misappropriation of Mr. Trump’s political image. The nonprofit wrapped itself in Mr. Trump’s flag, billing itself as a vehicle for supporting the president’s agenda, using his picture in its advertising and emphasizing that it had sought advice from the Department of Homeland Security.
But the scheme is also quintessentially Trumpian — a faithful copy of the president's knack for trading on the hopes of disaffected Americans. We Build the Wall, in other words, was basically a Trump tribute band. The plan itself was cribbed directly from Mr. Trump. It is the president, after all, who has sold many Americans on the fantastical idea of a simple solution to a complex problem — a border wall, which experts describe as unlikely to stop illegal immigration.
Crucially, Mr. Trump sold the border wall from the outset as a workaround for people frustrated that they couldn’t achieve their policy goals through the democratic process. He said Mexico would pay, so there was no need to ask Congress. Then he tried to shift money from the defense budget to start construction.
We Build the Wall shared that ethos. As the nonprofit explained on its website, “Our mission is to unite private citizens that share a common belief in providing national security for our Southern Border through the construction, administration and maintenance of physical barriers inhibiting illegal entry into the United States.”
This wasn’t a lobbying group. The point wasn’t to persuade Congress to build the wall. The idea was to usurp a basic function of government.
At first, Mr. Kolfage said he was raising money to fund federal construction. Then, with Mr. Bannon’s help, he went back to donors and asked them to recommit their gifts instead to the private construction of a wall, according to the government. The men repeatedly insisted all the money would go toward construction of the wall; they were arrested Thursday because the government said they didn’t keep that promise. (Of course, it’s hardly clear that using the money to build a longer wall would have been a better outcome.)
Last year, Donald Trump Jr. flew to El Paso to speak before the privately funded section of the wall, which is about 300 feet long, describing it as “private enterprise at its finest.”
But the Trump administration soured on the project this summer. After concerns were raised about the stability of the wall, the president criticized the quality of its construction in July. He insisted he planned to build a better wall, even though his administration hired the same firm that the nonprofit had hired to build the El Paso wall. On Thursday, the president said that paying privately for the border wall was “inappropriate.”
Mr. Bannon joins a long list of advisers to President Trump who have been charged with crimes, including Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman; Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser; and Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer. The details of the charges must have prompted at least a glimmer of recognition. Just last year, the president settled charges brought by the New York State attorney general that he had made personal use of donations to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, including to buy a $10,000 portrait of Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump agreed to close the foundation and donate its remaining money to “reputable” charities.
On Thursday, the White House resorted to its familiar insistence that this latest round of arrests did not involve people closely connected to the president. Mr. Bannon was dismissed as someone merely involved in “the early part of the administration.” Mr. Bannon worked as the president’s chief strategist from January 2017 to August 2017.
The looming question, however, is whether President Trump will keep Mr. Bannon at arm’s length. Americans can feel little confidence that Mr. Bannon will receive a fair trial and, if convicted, a fair punishment. By commuting Roger Stone’s sentence in July, Mr. Trump demonstrated a willingness to shelter his current and former associates from the legal consequences of their actions. It is a sad reality of the moment that Americans have reason to question whether justice will be served.
- Are charitable donations tax-deductible?
- Yes, charitable giving is tax-deductible, but you’ll need some records. Ask for an itemized receipt for any donation of money or goods, even if it amounts to less than the IRS’s $250 threshold. If your noncash donation is worth more than $500, you have to complete IRS Form 8283. A noncash donation worth more than $5,000 requires an appraisal.
- Before you donate goods, snap a photo of the pile, says Katie Thomas, a certified public accountant and co-owner of Diamond J Accounting in Phoenix. If you’re not sure how much that business suit or dining room set is worth, check the online valuation guides from Goodwill and the Salvation Army.
- Save receipts and documents in a designated folder, says Julie Colucci, associate adviser at New England Investment & Retirement Group in North Andover, Massachusetts. Or use an app like Evernote Scannable to store receipts in a digital folder that’s easy to share with your accountant.
- How to choose a charity?
- Search for national charities on Give.org, run by the Better Business Bureau, to get a look at their financials, including administrative costs (is there a fat cat CEO?) and program expenses. “For insight into the effectiveness of smaller, local charities, check with your community foundation,” says Phil Buchanan, author of Giving Done Right. (Find yours at the Council on Foundations website.) You could also try volunteering first. Sometimes just working the water station at a road race can give you a sense of an organization’s ethos—think of it as a fact-finding mission.
- If you’re new to an area and want to donate to a local cause, ask neighbors or coworkers for their favorite places or go to a trusted site, such as GuideStar, which vets charities. Plug in your city and what type of cause you’re interested in.
- How to be sure you’re giving to a reputable organization (and avoid charity scams)
- We’ve all heard the scam stories—the phony appeals for homeless vets, the woman who faked cancer. The best way to avoid being had is to know (a) the person who started the campaign and (b) exactly what the donation will pay for, says Ashley Post, spokesperson for Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator. (GoFundMe deducts a 2.9 percent processing fee from donations, so if you know someone who’s rebuilding after a wildfire, for example, you can just give the person cash directly.) As a rule, never give money via phone or email, even if the cause sounds legit. And keep in mind: Contributions aren’t tax-deductible unless a qualified nonprofit has organized the fundraising, Thomas says. Use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search to confirm that a charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
- How to decide how much to give?
- Just like housing, car insurance, and groceries, donations should be factored into your budget, says Kristine Stevenson Seale, a financial coach in Temple, Texas. “Base the amount you give on your monthly income,” she advises. If you can afford it, make charitable giving about 10 percent of your budget. And get in the habit of donating once a month rather than at the end of the year. To maximize your donation, opt out of the incentive gift, like the tote bag or coffee mug, Buchanan says.
- If a cash donation is a stretch one month, ask the organization if you can donate time or skills instead; you might do IT work for the website or organize a food drive. Remember, too, that you can give goods instead of money— bring tools to Habitat for Humanity, say, or personal-care products to a shelter.
- Should you donate less money to more charities or more money to fewer?
- Your money will generally go further if you donate the bulk of it to just a few places, Post says. (No matter how much you give, write a check whenever possible, since up to 5 percent of a credit card or online donation is often lost to processing fees.) It may help to divide the total sum into percentages of 50, 30, and 20, says Jason Franklin, PhD, founder and principal at Ktisis Capital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You could dedicate 50 percent to one cause that you care deeply about, 30 percent to ones that you feel connected to but that aren’t top priority, and 20 percent to unplanned donations, like those random requests to sponsor your friend’s trivia team at a fundraiser.
- Should you donate to a big charity or a small one?
- Go with what you think will have the most impact, Post says. Some people might give to their local food pantry to directly benefit the people in their area; for other folks, it might make more sense to donate to a national charity working to improve public policies surrounding hunger.