“Reputation Laundering” And The Dirty Money Fallacy

Meharry Medical College is a 143-year-old historically black institution in Tennessee. Last week it announced that it had received the second-largest grant in its history, a $7.5 million gift to study public health issues that affect African-Americans.

But the gift has prompted attacks from African-American health experts and activists. The source of the funds, Juul Labs, is the fast-growing e-cigarette company and partially owned by the tobacco giant Altria. “Juul is cozying up to the black community, and that makes it harder for some parts of the black community to call them out on their targeting of African-Americans,” says Sharon Y. Eubanks, who is an advisory board member of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California. By “targeting African-Americans”, she means that the company and Altria market its completely legal products to blacks (among other groups), who choose to buy them. [Full disclosure: I worked as an ethics consultant for Altria for many years, and enjoyed the relationship tremendously. Altria was the reason I shaved my head.]

According to the NAACP’s Youth Against Menthol campaign, about 85 percent of African-American smokers aged 12 and older smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with 29 percent of white smokers, and Juul markets menthol pods while Altria markets menthol versions of its cigarettes, like Marboro.  And how, exactly, is the African -American community helped if Meharry,  the nation’s largest medical research center at a historically black institution, refuses the Juul grant to demonstrate, well, something?

You got me. This, however, is part of a growing fad among the virtuous and the “woke”—refusing to allow organizations, entities and families that they have decided are bad from using  alleged ill-gotten gains to do good.

Last month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art joined several other museums, such as the Tate Modern, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Guggenheim, in rejecting donations from members of the wealthy Sackler family because it has ties to Purdue Pharma, which many believe to be partially responsible for the opioid crisis.  The Whitney Museum of American Art is similarly under pressure to remove one of its vice chairmen because he is the CEO of the Safariland Group, a company that has sold tear gas to law enforcement, which activists claim has been used against migrants at the border. Board members are often a non-profit’s most reliable source of charitable funds.  Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” agrees with these efforts. “Should anyone working to help families affected by President Trump’s immigration policies take money from Mark Zuckerberg, whose soft-pedaling of Russian interference in the 2016 election allowed anti-immigrant hate to spread and potentially helped Mr. Trump gain votes?” he asks.  “For far too long, generosity has been allowed to serve as a wingman of injustice; giving back disguises merciless taking.”

Rob Reich, a professor at Stanford, calls it “reputation laundering.” “Nonprofits can be complicit in reputation-laundering of their donors. If the donor made money in a way that was illegal, or imposed harm on other people, philanthropic use of the money does not balance the ledger,” he writes. That’s a breathtaking leap made with nary a thought: from objectively illegal to the completely subjective “imposed harm on other people.” The direct fruits of crime should not be accepted as charitable donations, because the money is not properly the donor’s to give away. Spitting on legally obtained money because of what may be distant, speculative and attenuated associations with positions, policies or activities activists don’t approve of, however, is virtue-signaling on a self-destructive and idiotic scale.

James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley argue,

The Carnegies, Rockefellers and Fords were denounced in their time as “Robber Barons,” even though their contributions to the steel, oil and automobile industries contributed greatly to American economic progress. Would we be better off today if a century ago charitable institutions rejected their contributions? Donors don’t donate to charities to cleanse their reputations from decisions made in the process of acquiring wealth. This is a crude fairy tale. In fact, most wealthy donors, like everyone else, give their money away primarily to help others or contribute to some public good.To accept the critics’ view is to accept the idea that business and wealth are inherently bad and charities exist to balance the moral scales. In fact, our great charitable institutions are creatures of the business system and the wealth it generates and continues to create.

The toxic idea is part of the intolerant Left’s campaign to stratify society into exclusive camps of Good and  Evil, and anything that blurs the line between them, or that makes the propaganda less easy to sell, must be prevented by any means necessary. Thus charities and non-profits that dare to accept good money from “bad” people and companies risk boycotts and consignment to Cognitive Dissonance Scale Hell.

Accept a link to Altria, Meharry Medical College, and you become one of them, the Bad Guys. You will have an anchor on the cognitive dissonance scale, pulling you into negative territory. If unnamed African Americans perish while waiting for the research that might have saved their lives if the $7.5 million had been accepted and used for its intended purpose, well, that’s just collateral damage in the Great Battle.

The Juul Labs gift doesn’t support the “reputation-laundering” narrative, in fact. Meharry approached Juul, not the other way around. The motivation for many such grants isn’t reputation-laundering but guilt—as a former corporate fundraiser, I can vouch for that: guilt opens doors, pockets, wallets foundation coffers. Juul has contributed to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and to the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group for African-American community newspapers. Their philanthropy doesn’t make up for whatever culpability they might have (or feel they might have) for the harm done to willing users of their products, but if it has independently beneficial results, rejecting the donations is self-destructive grandstanding at best, cowardly capitulation against the interests of stakeholders at worst.


Sources: New York Post, New York Times


21 thoughts on ““Reputation Laundering” And The Dirty Money Fallacy

  1. If Juul would like, I have no problem accepting multi-million dollar gifts from ANYBODY!! Somebody send ’em my address.

  2. And, after all, Melanie Wilkes didn’t care where Belle Watling’s money came from if it would help “The Cause” and her Ashley with it.

    “The Cause” is, of course, a can of worms, isn’t it?

  3. Well, where does this leave the trustees of Yale University? Shouldn’t the school be closed, it’s campus destroyed and salted and its endowment used to fund reparations?

    And aren’t advertisements supposed to reflect America in a statistically perfect assortment of people of various colors, or in an out-sized sample of non-white people? Isn’t it important to see people of color in all advertising? Should the black community be deprived of products that are sold to white people? I think not!

  4. Will the states return all the tax revenue gained from legal marijuana sales at the licensed dispensaries?

    Seems to me smoking weed that has a narcotic effect is far more dangerous than inhaling nictotine infused water vapor which is what Julle sells. No one ever suggested nicotine is a gateway drug.

    • Indeed, and there is growing evidence that nicotine is not even physiologically addictive. The physical addiction might be from other sources within tobacco, like THC.

      Of course, the psychic addiction remains… but many things can be that way to the susceptible. Porn, fast food, and sex come to mind. We don’t outlaw those, do we?

  5. Upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that ALL corporate sponsors should cease donating resources to NGO’s an non-profits.

    Losing something helps you gain a sense of appreciation. Perhaps that is what is needed. I have sensed for awhile our society has gotten too used to just getting when it makes a demand. I think a good jolt depression era psychology is needed among all those that believe somebody else is cheating them out of what they deserve.

    For all those bitching that someone is not paying their fair share in taxes I want the to tell me what is fair and how they arrived at that conclusion. I want them to tell me what their fair should be and then I want them to publically state what the fair share is for the poorest person. We all benefit so everyone should owe something – right?

    Juul should immediately rescind the offer based on the backlash and let the college explain why it lost the grant

    • I think they should rescind the offer and apologize to their shareholders for obviously not having considered the consequences of philanthropy toward “woke” left causes, and thereby bringing bad publicity on their brand.

      Then, they should donate the money to the Salvation Army.

  6. What I find interesting is that when I look at the opioid crisis, the group I feel is most responsible is hardly mentioned at all. Physicians wrote those prescriptions. Physicians failed to understand how addiction worked. Physicians failed to reasonably evaluate people’s pain. Despite this, physicians are most often listed as victims in this. I understand the role pharma played, they promoted their products and underplayed the risks. However, our ‘highly educated, intelligent, and dutiful’ physicians, the legal gatekeepers for prescription drugs, failed to do their job. When some physicians were handing out painkiller prescriptions like candy, would any local physicians agree to testify that it was unreasonable so these ‘pill mills’ could be shut down? Of all people, the states are going after pharmacists. Were pharmacists supposed to reject legal prescriptions from people because they were poor? That is the impression I am getting from the media and the state. As a result, poor areas are being left without any pharmacies because their local residents were abusing the pill mill system and getting prescriptions from physicians.

    • Unfortunately, a new doctor I had once seems to be trying to diagnose and treat using AI recommendations than, you know, actually putting weight to patient symptoms. Running by the numbers instead of reason, rationalizing their errors because it’s how everyone does it. Ignoring side effects, because it’s faster and easier than thinking first. Painkillers just make the overprescribing overwhelmingly clear, it applies to other meds too. (my doctors won’t give me any painkillers to replace verboten ibuprofin and seem to think I love pain) The triple scheduling isn’t really their fault, but they are letting AI droids make too many decisions as EVERYTHING comes with an undo to AI. Health doesn’t work that way, and I’m still being hamstrung by med changes made willy-nilly.

    • I agree 100% and have made similar arguments..

      Opiod orders to manufacturers are disaggregated. If 100 distributors order enough pills from tens of thousands of pharmacies who receive scripts from hundreds of thousands of unique patients. Who is in the best position to know that overprescribing is taking place: the MD and the pharmacist. Distributors might see a lot of product to a geographic area but have less understanding of the details of who will get the product. The manufacturer has no ability to assess need.

  7. I think some foundations and corporations use their philanthropy as if for a selling point, that I treat as a negative. But rejecting all beneficial uses of profit to benefit society, especially underserved segments, is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    “If it will save just one life, heal one minority, protect one child…” Aren’t these a credos the left screams? That seven million dollars cannot be magically summoned from the ether by the ether bunny. Where do you want to take it for this needed research? Scholarships? Medicaid? Drug interaction studies? Immigrant naturalization classes? Do you WANT targeted research for custom issues to stop?

    This is NOT about moral lapses in the research or researcher, but a lack of sin in the donors. But selling cigarettes is not a sin, just about everyone in this country either directly or indirectly, is codependant. I bet I could find a dozen ways any of these instigators were complicit at one time among: stock, retirement funds, a job as a teen at a convenience store or grocery, teen newspaper delivery, getting a longer break at first job, along with the most pragmatic hundred acre tobacco field that means a family farm isn’t paved over for a souless business. If they have never used any of these businesses or profited from stock ever in their lives, maybe, MAYBE they can throw the first stone. But the planks in their eyes are big enough to save both Jack and Rose.

    I think the only way you can ethically object and insist that funding be rejected, is if you can step up and replace that amount and a little extra for the mental whiplash. But, if I were the school who might think they’re onto something, wouldn’t having an extra 7 million from both sources speed a cure? Is it virtuous to wear ‘lily-white’ gloves of being ice-cold virtue as people suffer around you so you can be purer?

    I think not. Slightly grey is not the devil.

    • This is NOT about moral lapses in the research or researcher, but a lack of sin in the donors. But selling cigarettes is not a sin, just about everyone in this country either directly or indirectly, is codependant.

      Oh, but this is wrong, you see. Selling cigarettes is not just a sin, but one of the new sins which are absolutely unforgivable. Well, almost.

      Gluttony, lust, wrath, envy, sloth, pride, greed… these can and should be forgiven. But not being associated with causes that offend the “woke” Left. These must be shunned, boycotted, and denied the ability to associate themselves with good things, forever. Forgiveness cannot happen, because once you are associated with something the Left dislikes, you can never redeem yourself, unless the Left decides they can use you for their ends. Then, the ends justify the means, and it’s okay.

      Apparently, the Left sees no good way Juul can help them out. Thus they are forever shunned.

      But people like Elizabeth Warren are useful, despite her cultural appropriation sin, which is becoming more and more unforgivable. So therefore, all is forgiven. For now.

      So you see, grey is the Devil. Until it isn’t.

  8. There is a sort of companion story linked on Instapundit today; “Louis CK’s Audience Must Be Punished.”

    It tells the tale of the Shankfest Comedy Festival in Brooklyn, where Louis CK showed up unexpectedly and made a few jokes. The crowd cheered.

    As you’ll see from the rest of the story, cheering for Louis CK is unacceptable crimethink. The venue apologized profusely for the crime of a social outcast daring to show up unannounced and garner cheers for his obviously evil talent. You can read the rest yourself.

    So this is the new distopia that the left wants to lead us to — a place where all people who do things the left doesn’t like is denied a forum to speak, denied the ability to donate to good causes, denied the very right to participate in society. They are to be boycotted, ignored, rejected, and removed from the public square no matter how fare they are removed from unapproved activities.

    Can you imagine what would have happened if Chick-Fil-A had offered a big donation? The same thing. Yuengling Beer? Same.

    This will not end well. It looks innocuous enough now, but it’s not going to stay that way.

  9. Not completely off topic, but… The employees at Wayfair, a purveyor of furniture among other things, walked off the job because the company sold,or offered to sell, beds to ICE to help resolve the problem of detainees sleeping on the floor because of a lack of beds. The employees don’t want the company “supporting” the evil immigration services; its better that the detainees continue to sleep on concrete. Oh, yeah, and they also decry the company making a profit while doing this.

    No, I don’t know what makes people think this way…

    And the wife has purchased furniture items from Wayfair for our home and I find the quality quite good (even dovetailed joints on drawers).

    • This insanity caught my eye as well, Mike. Virtue signalling in it’s most idiotic form. I hope Wayfair docks their pay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.