Ethics Hero Emeritus: Jack McDonald (1915-2013)

Jack McDonald

Before today, I had never heard of Jack McDonald, and outside of his co-workers , family and friends, not many had. That was the way he wanted it, for he was an unassuming man with a conventional career, including three decades as an attorney for the Veterans Administration. He clipped coupons, dressed humbly and allowed himself few luxuries. He got around his home town of Seattle using public transportation. Most who knew him thought he was struggling.

When Jack McDonald died this past September, his death received little notice in the local news, and none nationally—until about a week ago, when it was revealed that his will provided for the creation of a $187.6 million charitable trust for the benefit of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the University of Washington School of Law and the Salvation Army. Continue reading

One More Reason To Defund NPR, or “Boy, Did I Ever Go Into The Wrong Profession!”

The primary reason to end funding for NPR and PBS is that the government shouldn’t be funding competitors of private broadcasting organizations.

The second reason is that anything public broadcasting does that is sufficiently popular and valuable  (“Sesame Street,” “The Prairie Home Companion,” “Car Talk,’ et al.) will be picked up by commercial stations, and those programs that are not should not be underwritten by taxpayer dollars.

The third: NPR’s audience is narrow and affluent, and doesn’t require a public subsidy, particularly when cutting down the budget deficit is a national priority.

Finally, NPR can’t be trusted with public funds. It claims to be objective, but isn’t; it is mismanaged, and isn’t appropriately frugal with taxpayer funds.

This comes under the final category. The salaries of the top NPR talent do not reflect restraint in expending precious resources.  Continue reading

The Missing Ethics Alarm: Spending Other People’s Money

How did I get HERE??

I confess: I honestly don’t understand this problem. From the first time I had an expense account, it never occurred to me to use it for my own pleasure. If I had to eat out on the road, I picked an inexpensive restaurant. I didn’t charge hotel room movies to my employer—he wasn’t sending me there to be entertained. I flew coach, and paid for any personal long-distance calls. Why? Because it wasn’t my money. I was a fundraiser for a non-profit, and I knew that whatever the donors were giving money for, it wasn’t for me.

It became apparent over the years that few of my colleagues or bosses saw it that way, when it came to their own expenses, and that elected officials and corporate officers not only readily use other people’s money extravagantly, but also that few people object when they do. The conduct is clearly irresponsible and unfair; I would call it dishonest. But those in high positions seem to regard it as their right. Continue reading

Obama’s Damaging Ethical Blind Spot

For several years, I have been using a hypothetical in my business ethics courses involving the head of a non-profit who brings in a fundraising whiz to help the organization survive. While he is settling in and before he has had time to rescue the organization with his fundraising wizardry, she has asked the staff to accept a freeze on raises and hiring, and has cut other expenses, and even some staff. She asks the new fundraiser to live with his dilapidated office, though she had promised him a redecoration while recruiting him. But he objects: Continue reading

The 4th, the Crisis, and the Duty to Celebrate

The Fourth of July is less than 60 days away, and communities are looking hard at their budgets. The signs are ominous. This doesn’t seem like the right time to be throwing big parties.

This week, the Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross announced that it was canceling the Waterfront Festival, a summer community celebration with fireworks that it had sponsored since 1981. “We decided that responding to a fire in the middle of the night was a much better use of our resources,” said a local Red Cross’s executive director. Indeed. The total costs of the event totaled close to a quarter-million dollars. In times of financial stress, and even in better times, a service organization using resources and volunteer time to throw a community party of such magnitude seems irresponsible.

So what are we going to do about the 4th of July? Continue reading