Tag Archives: philanthropy

Foundations as “Extensions” of Corporate Reach

New Orleans   Foundations created by corporations and the superrich are multi-headed monster of tax havens and public relations that combine to whitewash a story for the people down below that makes us swallow rather than spit.  The latest examples have Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and world’s richest man, claiming to make climate change his thing and BlackRock, the supersized private equity firm with $7.4 trillion under thumb, trying to carve a place for itself in philanthropy.  Yes, it’s hard not to spit, isn’t it?

But, wait, there’s a kernel of truth that has escaped from this mass of puffery.  The new head of the new BlackRock foundation without thinking became totally transparent in describing the planned pursuits of their new foundation as “an extension of what the firm does.”  What BlackRock does too often is rip-and-run or perhaps more accurate wreck-and-ruin.  The CEO Lawrence Fink has been collecting newspaper clips of his statements that maybe BlackRock will stop investing in companies that don’t at least genuflect in the direction of climate change and is tilting towards gulping down companies with better social and enviro records.  Thus far, it’s mostly talk, while we look for action.

BlackRock has another foundation that claims to “build savings tools for lower-income individuals,” and like a lot of money machines pretends to care about financial literacy.  The irony is painful.  This is the same company hoarding formerly foreclosed properties for rent and resale and helping change the entire real estate market in cities like Memphis.  In fact, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, most of their new foundation is being funded by its half of its $600 million stake in PennyMac Financial Services.  PennyMac is a straight-line successor to predatory lender, Countrywide Mortgage.

Public Integrity was clear in a 2013 analysis of all of the subprime execs who have made comebacks and reruns once people could pretend to have forgotten the great recession.

PennyMac, a fast-growing company founded by former Countrywide Home Loans CEO and IndyMac director Stanford Kurland, is a sprawling concern that earns fees by originating loans in call centers and online. It consists of two intertwined companies: a tax-free investment trust that holds mortgage investments and an investment advisor that manages the trust and other investment pools, among other activities. PennyMac buys loans from pre-approved outside sales offices, bundles them and sells off the slices. The company manages other peoples’ mortgage investments, collects borrowers’ payments and forwards them to investors. It forecloses on properties and amasses portfolios of loans and mortgage-backed securities as investments.

Tell me this doesn’t sound like a late-night horror movie coming back at us again.  BlackRock is probably exiting this investment and hiding it in a tax haven foundation to prevent reputational and financial damage when the whole thing explodes again.

As for Bezos, Amazon is now ranked in the top 200 companies emitting the most to impact climate change.   Groups of his workers have been organizing and demanding he and Amazon address climate issues and their impact on the destruction within the company.  His ex-wife just pledged to offload most of her share in the great giveaway with Gates, Buffet and the gang.  The article in the Times about the Bezos Earth Fund said it was unclear what they wanted to do.

Not really, all of these projects start as clear expressions and extensions of their corporate interests, just as the new exec said.  We again will take the hindmost.

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More Greenwashing by the Rich

New Orleans     Cases continue to mount, marching forward on an almost daily basis, where we watch the rich attempt to greenwash their wealth and reputations for their private interests and tax benefits and distort the privileges that are claimed by philanthropy.

Ghislaine Maxwell, sometime consort and alleged pimp for Jeffrey Epstein and perhaps an heir to a controversial British publishing fiasco owned by her father until irregularities cropped up after his death, headed a US foundation briefly as she tried to distance herself publicly from Epstein after he did time in 2008 for soliciting underage women for prostitution. The foundation TerraMar, whose name signaled an interest in land and sea, claimed to want to advance the health of the ocean, given Maxwell’s love of yachts. IRS filings indicate that the foundation made no grants during its first five years from 2013 to 2017 according to its 990s, as reviewed by The New York Times. One of her friends was quoted as saying it seemed in one case to be “reputation management,” and another seemed to indicate that the foundation was perhaps more about conserving Maxwell’s reputation as it was conserving the ocean. Of course she may have also been taking a page from his book, since he was a big donor to various scientific efforts and Harvard for his own reputational whitewashing campaign forcing some big whoops to apologize for hanging with him.

Admittedly, these are sordid examples of perverse philanthropy perhaps, but I wonder how different than the usual, and for many of these self-proclaimed philanthropists, how much is ever in the public interest?

Make no mistake. The Internal Revenue Services provides its most favorable ruling of a 501c3 public charity providing a tax exemption for donations for organizations operating in the public, rather than private interest, involving public health, education, and community benefits.

All of this greenwashing of the rich and elite has gotten more attention thanks to the infamous Sackler family that pulled billions out of Purdue Pharma, the notorious manufacturer and hawker of opioids that have killed thousands. Various world-class museums including the Louvre in Paris and the Tate in London, have pulled back from the family or taken their names off the door, so to speak, though few have returned any of the millions they received. Now a fellow was pushed off the board of the Whitney Museum because he made his pile partially by manufacturing tear gas used on protestors around the world. The notorious rightwing, anti-democratic Koch family has their names on many of these cultural institutions for their contributions and does so with impunity, so this is all more window washing, rather than a deep clean.

Now the rich are whining because a boycott was announced of SoulCycle and some other investments by billionaire Steven Ross a primary investor there, real estate mogul, and owner of the Miami Dolphins, because he was hosting a $250,000 a ticket fundraiser for Donald Trump at his place in the Hamptons. Some of their board buddies defend him and others of the tribe loudly for their interest in education, art, opera or whatever, claiming that politics is getting muddled into philanthropy.

Wow, what a specious argument! As the Times’ “Wealth Matters” columnist was forced to admit, “Their resources and connections can influence the decisions of institutions managed for the public good….” Well, yeah! And, it’s not “can,” but DO influence the decisions. Why mince words. The public good is not their private interest or, heaven forbid, that of their elite friends who are also enamored of the opera, arts, or wherever they are claiming social capital and a tax exemption for greenwashing their personal reputation and cleaning up the damage they do to the public in minting their money. You could count on Ross to threaten his football players when Kaepernick was kneeling, and he did. You can count on the Koch’s to do everything they can to damage the climate, if it pads their pockets, and to destroy democracy at every opportunity.

As the superrich club bemoans the lack of gratitude from hoi polloi, whether it’s donor-directed funds or their tax-exempt think tanks or their general buddy-buddy greenwashing efforts with their fellow rich elites, there’s no question that whether it’s the Whitney or some small nonprofit, when are they going to admit that they are the piper playing the tunes, and they expect all these people to dance. It’s all transactional for them, so why not stop pretending it has anything to do with benefiting the public.

Let the protests continue!

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