Governor Christie’s Favorite Charity

In the age of ceaseless parroting for “transparency,” it’s astounding to me that government do-gooders are apparently immune.

The Asbury Park (NJ) Press is reporting:

The Sandy relief fund chaired by New Jersey first lady Mary Pat Christie has raised more than $32 million so far. But four months after the superstorm, none of that aid has reached storm victims yet.

In her defense, Mrs. Christie cites the challenges of starting a charity from scratch, and other logistical problems.

Poor Mrs. Christie has exhausted herself, “soliciting advice from charity experts, making calls to wealthy individuals and corporations, seeking sizeable donations, and assembling a small staff and a bi-partisan operating board. She also helped recruit celebrities to join an honorary advisory board, which now includes Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and Bono.”

But actually dispensing disaster relief? Not so much.

I guess Mrs. Christie neglected to share her view that such formidable challenges excuse such delays with her husband, who has called FEMA’s and Congress’s similar delays in providing relief to his state “disgusting.”

Of course, the chief question is: Why did Mrs. Christie find a need to create a charity from scratch, when there already exist dozens, if not hundreds, of effective, efficient charities with decades of experience providing disaster relief?

Why not simply lend her name and face to efforts to direct funding to one of these? For example, the private Robin Hood Foundation has drawn on its 25 years’ experience to so far direct more than $50 million of the $67 million raised from the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief “to dozens of nonprofit groups, with nearly 40 percent of the funds earmarked for relief efforts in New Jersey. The foundation expects to commit almost all of the remaining concert money by the end of the month.”

Not good enough for her husband, the governor. He instead turned to the logical alternative to reliance on proven track-records: asking his wife to chair a brand new relief fund and become its chief fundraiser—no previous experience required.

It’s bad enough that government does such an abysmal job responding to disasters using tax dollars. But now it’s taking for itself the very lifeblood of private charities that consistently outperform public aid, every time: private, voluntary giving.

And the Christie boondoggle is simply the most current example of this disturbing trend of government figures setting themselves up as the new frontmen for “charity.”

Following Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, Laura Bush and Cindy McCain appeared on national television from the Republican National Convention to urge donations to “charities” that were in fact government-sponsored agencies.

How much was raised and for what was it used? Who knows?

Following the devastation of the earthquake in Haiti, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton famously formed and stumped to raise money for their brand-new “Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.” A review of its 2010 and 2011 IRS filings shows $50 million raised, but only $20.5 million disbursed as grants to operating non-profits. The fund ceased operations at the end of 2012, declaring victory:

“We are ready to step back and bear witness as Haitians take control of their own rebuilding,” said Clinton Bush Haiti Fund CEO Gary Edson. “Any successes we have had are not ours, but the Haitian people’s.”

The several-million-dollar questions:

  • Why divert charitable giving through an intransparent funnel of bureaucracy headed by political figureheads with no experience in operating any kind of charity—much less a demonstrated-effective one?
  • What does it bode for the real charitable sector when private giving is diverted away from it and into these kinds of intransparent, bloated, unresponsive, and unaccountable agencies?

So the next time you’re looking to help those less fortunate and you hear, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” grab your wallets and run, do not walk, to the nearest non-profit whose continued existence depends on accountability to those it serves and to its donors.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Chairman and Chief Executive of the Independent Institute.
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