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Lately many of us — certainly me — have come to use financier and trader as shortcut for greedy, soulless, amoral type. Truth is, of course, that lots of local banks, small brokerages, etc, never really caught the greed contagion. Some were victims of the economic meltdown, many rode it out — but few were part of the cause.
Well, many of us have also come to use non-profit and charity as shortcuts for goodness, helpfulness, social conscience, the antithesis of greed. But there’s a hierarchy here too, it seems, and it apparently emulates that of the banking world — i.e., the already-rich and least deserving will do anything to get richer in the name of entitlement.
I’m reacting to the news that the Spence School and the Asia Society are refusing to return donations they received from Hassan Nemazee, who admitted he got all his money from a $300 million Ponzi scheme. Many other charities — some as well-endowed as these two, but just as many not — readily returned the money, preferring some austerity to benefiting from ill-gotten gains. But these two refused. Why? Read it and weep, courtesy The New York Times:
“The funds were spent long ago, and therefore, are no longer available for forfeiture in any event,” Gary Stein, a lawyer for Spence, wrote in a letter to the government.
“It would not be appropriate for the Asia Society to compensate the financial-institution victims for losses resulting from a fraud scheme in which the Asia Society took no part,” Daniel S. Ruzumna, a lawyer for the society, said in a letter.
Uh, huh. Let’s tackle the money-gone rationale first. We’re talking about a bit over $15,000 to Spence, around $270,000 to Asia. The Times sites the Asia Society’s own annual report as saying it has over $8 million in cash. And the paper quotes the Manhattan Guide to Private Schools and Selective Public Schools as putting the Spence School’s endowment at $85 million as of January 2009. Now granted, it could have lost money in the market since then, but I doubt it has gone into dire financial straits.
And now let’s deal with the “I didn’t steal it so I get to keep it” rationale. Let me get this straight. If someone steals your diamond necklace and gives it to me as a gift, I am under absolutely no obligation to return it to you, because after all, I didn’t steal it? And I need it to maintain my coop and image…
Remember, we’re not talking about inner city schools scrapping for money to pay for internet access. We’re not talking about charities sending money to Darfur. We’re talking about Spence, a rich school for rich kids that probably shouldn’t even have non-profit status (does it gall me that my tax dollars indirectly support economically-segregated education? You bet it does!) And we’re talking about the Asia Society, which I’m sure provides laudable cultural benefits to its members, but simply is not up there with re-housing Katrina victims.
What’s interesting is how many other institutions chose not to hide behind these kinds of despicable rationalizations:
In total, the government has recovered, or been promised, $722,166. It has determined that $376,600 of Mr. Nemazee’s donations are not recoverable, because they went to organizations that no longer exist, like Edwards for President, Gephardt for President and the Gore-Lieberman Recount Committee, which received $50,000.
A number of political parties and candidates donated their contributions from Mr. Nemazee to charity after his much-publicized arrest last year, but before the government requested the funds be returned. Some, like Friends for Harry Reid, told the government that even though it had donated the $9,600 in funds it had received from Mr. Nemazee to charity, it would pay the government back in full.
The politicians are coming out as the good guys, the charity folks and educators as the villains? Can you hear the Twilight Zone music in the background?
What Spence and Asia Society are doing is the non-profit equivalent of Goldman Sachs insisting on 100 cents on the dollar from AIG. I might have done that too if I were Goldman, of course — at least investment bankers never pretended to be in business for the public good. But educators and cultural boosterists? I guess wealth begets greed in the world of goodness, too — but shame!.