The politics of philanthropy
July 22, 2003 7:19 AM   Subscribe

A plucky anti-abortion crusader has convinced Berkshire-Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett to end a philanthropic program that has donated $200 million over 2 decades. She is delighted. Does any of this (his decision, her delight) make sense? What are some other successful examples of small, grassroots movements exerting a major impact on philanthropy?
posted by stonerose (28 comments total)
He cut the whole program, pro-life and anti-abortion charities alike. That comprises a 18.00 per-check employee contribution to 3 charities of their choice, irrespective of politics. The first article only mentions 9 million of that 200 million bankrolling abortion charities.

So, I'm so glad the short-sighted Cindy Coughlin has single-handedly ended funding for "institutions ranging from schools to groups on either side of the abortion debate." I'm sure she's made this country a better place for everyone, including whatever puppies she managed to squeeze out over her period of meager existence.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:33 AM on July 22, 2003

A classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Berkshire-Hathaway gave away $200 million across ALL charities, a small fraction of that going to pro-choice groups.

So, the "activists" make such a stink that instead of trying to sort it all out, they just discontinue the program.

I hope this woman is proud of what she REALLY did, which was end one of the most generous philanthropic ventures in our country.

Good job.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:36 AM on July 22, 2003

Warren Buffet - "one of the abortion industry’s top financiers.....For years, his company has funneled profits — about $9 million a year to be exact — into The Buffett Foundation, which in turn donated at least $11 million to pro-choice and reproductive-rights groups in 2002."

This article is hardly objective. "Abortion industry financier"? It would be far more accurate to say that Buffet was a top financier of birth control and reproductive health groups such a Planned Parenthood - which the Anti-Abortion rights crusaders like to smear as an "Abortion Mill" when, in fact, abortions constitute only a very small fraction of what Planned Parenthood does and this group, and others who provide access to birth control and reproductive health services and counseling certainly prevent abortions by cutting the rate of unwanted pregnancies.

It would be far more accurate to dub the anti-abortion rights crusaders as the "Back Alley Abortion Promotion Society" - in my opinion.

Also, what Thanatopsis said.
posted by troutfishing at 7:44 AM on July 22, 2003

You've got to admit though, what she did was pretty impressive as a feat of grassroots organizing.
posted by boltman at 7:53 AM on July 22, 2003

We've got friends sell this shit. My wife even hosted one of those dumb ass parties once. She gets invited to about two or three a month. Of course she never goes, but...

Next time she gets invited to one of these parties, I can't wait to go along with her and just raise a huge ass stink. What fun.

Of course the majority of the people that attend/host these things are mindless sheep, so my efforts I'm sure would be completely for naught.

Still in all, it might be fun to start some trouble.
posted by damnitkage at 7:58 AM on July 22, 2003

You've got to admit though, what she did was pretty impressive as a feat of grassroots organizing.

I guess one of the questions I'm interested in is: was it really that impressive? Was there something unique and powerful about her modus operandi, or her power base, or was Buffett just manifesting lazy or amoral behavior? The story leaves me at loose ends somehow.
posted by stonerose at 7:59 AM on July 22, 2003

Read the Berkshire-Hathaway report. Warren makes a statement about what this means. He doesn't go into details of why, but does say that Pampered Chef was being harmed due to the parent companies charity policies. The previous policy was that the shareholders in the company could pick a couple of charities to donate to and a percentage of the profits would go to those charities. It really wasn't Berkshire-Hathaway investing in Planned Parenthood, it was individual investors.

To protect Pampered Chef Buffet killed the present charity plan, instead each subsidary of Berkshire-Hathaway will be responsible for picking their own charities.

I still don't like it, but at least money is still being paid to charities. I suppose that any individual company could chose to donate to Planned Parenthood if it wanted. Investors have been taken out of the loop though.
posted by substrate at 8:09 AM on July 22, 2003

I forgot to add an actual link to the report, sorry.
posted by substrate at 8:11 AM on July 22, 2003

Does any of this (his decision, her delight) make sense?

Not sure why Berkshire-Hathaway decided to cut all their charitable works. I can see them not wanting to make a political distinction by cutting funding for one side of the issue and not the other. However, some of their other charitable works such as the school charities had no reason to be affected.

As for the protestor, the changes aren't solely due to her actions. As the article states, many other consultants of the Pampered Chef were complaining or quiting because they disagreed with the policy. They didn't want the profits of their company going to fund something that they don't support, so they complained. If the profits of my work were funding something I didn't agree with, I would complain about it too. Wouldn't everybody?
posted by jsonic at 8:16 AM on July 22, 2003

jsonic - Oh sure fund the schools! When we have the single largest waves of seniors about to wash upon the retirement shores!

I'm sure the reasoning was that if it's not abortion then it will be something else. Disabled loggers fund v. tree sitters. or AIDS research / prevention v. Christian fundies
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 8:30 AM on July 22, 2003


read the report. Berkshire-Hathaway couldn't necessarily cut funding to Planned Parenthood with the then-current charity program. Each investor in Berkshire-Hathaway could choose up to three charities to donate to. The only requirement was that they had official charity status. So Buffet's strategy was to end the current charity program, thus taking individual investors out of the loop, and instead allow each company under Berkshire-Hathaway to choose their own investments.

My workplace funds a shitload of things that I'm sure I don't agree with. They provide (or provided, I think that was killed off due to our managements incredible inability to make sound financial decisions) matches for any charitable organization that an employee donates (or donated) to, again, as long as they had 501(c)(3) status. I'm sure Pat Robertson received money from my co-workers assuming he has a 501(c)(3) organization. I never complained because the company itself didn't make the donations.

To mis-quote a mefi user who constantly bashes the left with the comment: Cindy Coughlin is just another example of rightwing tolerance.
posted by substrate at 8:35 AM on July 22, 2003

I do hope that Tara and Cindy will now be donating money to the makers of wire coathangers to fund backstreet abortions. 'Pampered Chef'? The name speaks for itself.
posted by riviera at 8:55 AM on July 22, 2003

jsonic - whoever rose the stink to "save the babies" better be prepared to also pony up the money to pay for their future education. When you attempt to impose your opinions on other folks' money, chances are that they will move somewhere it outside your influence.
posted by magullo at 9:00 AM on July 22, 2003

To mis-quote a mefi user who constantly bashes the left with the comment: Cindy Coughlin is just another example of rightwing tolerance.

Gotcha! The right wing never claims to be tolerant.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:07 AM on July 22, 2003

I just love that this friggin' moron was described as "plucky", like it's cute that she's sabotaged a philanthropic effort because it didn't agree with her narrow friggin' world-view.

"Pampered Chef" can kiss my ass. Twice.
posted by FormlessOne at 9:18 AM on July 22, 2003

When you attempt to impose your opinions on other folks' money, chances are that they will move somewhere it outside your influence.

They were complaining about how the profits from their own work were being used. Complaining is not imposing. You may not agree with their opinion, but don't you agree with their right to complain (protest)? Or should they shut-up as some neo-cons suggested to the war protestors?
posted by jsonic at 9:22 AM on July 22, 2003

I just love that this friggin' moron was described as "plucky"

Easy there, FormlessOne - I'll have my irony transmitter recalibrated, if you'll do the same with your receiver.
posted by stonerose at 9:25 AM on July 22, 2003

As Buffett has long stated in his annual reports and letters to shareholders, he's not big on corporate charity and prefers that shareholders make their contributions in their own names precisely because of such PR problems. To this end, the program that he has now cut has always been responsible for only a tiny fraction of the charitable contributions that ultimately come out of the Berkshire Hathaway family and most of the money will, no doubt, be directed back to charity by the individuals. This is a non-story.
posted by shinnin at 9:33 AM on July 22, 2003

jsonic - They can complain all they want - as long as they are prepared to accept the predictable & full consequences of their actions. In other news, it does not matter if it was their own work: it's still not their money.
posted by magullo at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2003

Dammit the profits of my work go to fund my upper management's porsche and mercedes collections. I find this unacceptable and will now start a plucky grass roots effort in order to get the owner of my company to cut the salary of any one with a "C" in the beginning or "VP" anywhere in their title to minimum wage. They will however be able to keep their suits, for appearances must be maintained.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2003

They were complaining about how the profits from their own work were being used. Complaining is not imposing.

yes but...

she says she won't be satisfied until the man she deferentially refers to as "Mr. Buffett" stops donating to pro-choice causes. "Now," she says, "the focus is on him."

odd how in the so called land of freedom there are so many wannabe dictators who despise the personal freedom of others... i mean, what business is it of hers what this man does with his own money...? in light of her current agenda the original complaint lacks honesty; it's as tho' it was used as a trojan horse, with the real goal being a personal attack on someone who doesn't share her world view.
posted by t r a c y at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2003

Please. Warren Buffet is motivated by one thing, money. The majority of the customer-base of Pampered Chef is middle-America, white, conservative Christian women who disagree with abortion. If BH had continued to be perceived as giving money to "abortionists", it would have adversely affected their business, plain and simple. To imply anything other than this being a business decision is to imply something that just isn't there.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 10:17 AM on July 22, 2003

Citizen Magazine is a branch of Focus on the Family, not exactly known for their unbiased reporting on issues relating to abortion.

Simply put, the piece is opinion masquerading as news.

I don't mind opinion. I do mind it when someone with an agenda presents opinion as news. Thus, Citizen, as a magazine, is crap.

As for Berkshire-Hathaway-- well, I understand, but they should have known it would happen. When you acquire the latest craze in Christian marketing, you have to expect that you'll have these kind of narrow-minded intolerant twits who'd rather force everyone to contribute to the charities they approve of rather than making the allocations that suit their own moral sense and keeping their opinions about what charities other people allocate to themselves unless asked, thank you very much, as employeed.

But that's just my opinion.
posted by Cerebus at 10:22 AM on July 22, 2003

what's that? a group of people organized around religious or moral ideals trying to interfere with decisions made by individuals for the supposed purpose of correcting some religious or moral wrong?

someone might protest when people wear fur, but they shouldn't stop them or rip off or steal their fur coats. if they blew up stores selling fur, they'd consider them a terrorist.

yet this person and those who signed the petition felt it in their right to prevent people from choosing where they donate their money, through their employer.

good for Warren Buffett and good for B-H for discontinuing the program altogether, rather than bowing to pressure and preventing pro-choice donations. I hope that those employees that formerly chose Planned Parenthood choose to make donations on their own, and give a little more to show those who wish to silence them what their freedom means.
posted by VulcanMike at 10:43 AM on July 22, 2003

It does burn me, but I love it when commercial interests connected to right-wing groups get boycotted into submission, so fair is fair.

That said, I hope that Ms. Coughlon's concern for the children migrates to the actual living ones that are going to be deprived by the end of Berkshire Hathaway's program. It's like Barney Frank said: "They think that life begins at conception and ends at birth."
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2003

It's like Barney Frank said: "They think that life begins at conception and ends at birth."

Thank you, I've been needing a new .sig.
posted by Cerebus at 1:04 PM on July 22, 2003

I think Buffett's decision is a Solomonic one. Actually, it reminds me of what my mom used to do when my brother and I fought over a toy; she'd put it in the box for Goodwill (a US charity).

If this lady thinks that Warren Buffett gives a flying cahootie's ass about what she thinks of his personal philanthropy, though, she is sadly mistaken.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:20 PM on July 22, 2003

Yeah, she raises a stink about this - at least she can quit and find a nice "Christian" company with little to no upheaval in her life.

How would she propse I go about paying taxes no a government other than one that gives my money to religious groups with whom I strongly disagree?

What's that? I can't?

Ahh, hypocrisy, thy name is neo-con activism.
posted by zaack at 2:37 PM on July 22, 2003

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