“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. Continue reading

Political Fundraising Frauds And Scams, PART I: The Democrats

There’s nothing much  lower and making your iconic ,84 year old, women’s rights advocate on the Supreme Court look like she’s breached multiple judicial ethics rules, but the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is up to the challenge, A current DSCC fundraising letter, forwarded to me by a friend, does this AND lies to its supporters in the interest of separating them from their money.

  • No, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg” does not “have a powerful message” about this topic. She made that statement more than 20 years ago, before she was “Justice Ginsberg,” when she told Senators that.

I assume that Justice Ginsberg neither gave her permission to be misrepresented  in this fraudulent manner, nor knew the DSCC was planning on making her a party to a scam. She’s old, but she’s not THAT old. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Boy, The GOP Really, Really Likes Census Scams!”

In this Comment of the Day, Chris Marschner expresses more sympathy for the frauds, scammers and bait-and-switch artists of the world, and less sympathy for the scammed, than I have. He is right, I think, that by the time someone fooled by fundraising letters masquerading as something else actually send in a donation they have figured things out. It doesn’t matter. The scam is fooling people into opening the letter.  And donors are indeed fools to willingly give money to any organization or entity that show such disrespect by using deceptive tactics.

Chris writes that people should read envelopes and mailers carefully. Sure they should, but reality is that they don’t. They also don’t read the small print in contracts, or users agreements on smart phones and social media sites. Human beings are wired to be trusting, not to assume that everyone is trying to pull something over on them. That’s a good thing. Society is based on trust. And little by little, in almost imperceptible ways, manipulative, unethical people and organizations erode that trust.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Boy, The GOP Really, Really Likes Census Scams!”:

I understand why people see this as sleazy but to say people sent money in because they were duped is unsupported. All one has to do is read the questions and see it it is pro- fill in the party. You can (should – provided you were not born yesterday) assume there will be an appeal for a donation.

Let me be very clear. Congress passed a law with a hole in it a 777 could fly through. I thought the lawyers that write the text of these laws are trained in writing. All that law needed to say is that the word census cannot be visible to tbe recipient prior to opening. Or, if you don’t want any misunderstanding simply say the word census may not be used anywhere in the mailing.

I get these types of fundraising letters from a variety of groups; police, firefighers, veterans etc. All appeal to some authority to compel action. Continue reading

Boy, The GOP Really, Really Likes Census Scams!

Let me quote my favorite writer—me, of course—to set this one up. From March 17, 2010

It was [Chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele] who approved some sleazy direct mail hack’s clever idea to send potential GOP donors counterfeit census forms. Arriving in thick envelopes with “Do Not Destroy. Official Document” on the front (“See, it’s not a lie! It IS an official document, right? Just from a different official—you, Mr. Steele! Get it? …), and the imposing legend  “Census Document Registered To: [ the name  of the recipient]” stamped there as well  (“It  really is kind of a a census document, capiche, Mister Steele? So they can’t complain later—it’s just not the one they think it is! But they’ll open it every time! I love this mailing!”), the package included a four-page form complete with an eight figure “Census Tracking Code.” (“Nice touch, eh Mister Steele? Joey here thought that one up. It will really have them believing this, the suckers!”) But the questions would quickly begin striking anyone not half asleep as rather odd for the Census, with queries like,

“Do you traditionally vote in all elections?”

“Do you generally identify yourself as a: Conservative Republican, Moderate Republican, Liberal Republican, Independent Voter who leans Republican or Other?”

“How much does it concern you that the Democrats have total control of the federal government?”

“Do you think the record trillion-dollar deficit the Democrats are creating with their out-of-control spending is going to have disastrous consequences for our nation?”

Even the sleepy, drunk or stupid, however, should have figured out the scam when they read, “When finished answering your Census, please return it along with your generous contribution in the enclosed postage-paid envelope.”

Gotcha! So clever! So well-executed! Soooooo dishonest, deceitful, and wrong….Not only did the mailing aim to deceive, it also confused, and the Census Bureau expressed worries that the fraudulent mailings would undermine response rates for the official census forms, causing citizens to ignore or not fill out the real forms when they arrived later. Lower mail response rates will increase Census costs, because the Bureau must send census-takers to every home that does not respond.

The good news is that the incident reminded House members what it was like to agree on something, and they passed a unanimous, bi-partisan measure banning fake census fundraising appeals, because the fact that such mailings were obviously and putridly unethical wasn’t enough any more. Not with Michael Steel in charge of the Republican fundraising. His influence is strong, after all: doing his best Steele impression after the House vote, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said, “The NRCC remains opposed to misleading mailings,” which is 1) a lie 2) an insulting lie 3) an embarrassingly obvious lie. It is opposed to them although it just sent out an intentionally misleading mailing of epic dimensions. The statement means one of these three things: “We are being controlled by Satan!”, “We are completely insane!”, or “We are lying our heads off!” One guess, and the first two don’t count.

But wait! There’s more! Continue reading

Mayor De Blasio, Mrs. De Blasio, And Rationalization #68: The Volunteer’s Dodge, Or “You Don’t Pay Me Enough To Be Ethical!”

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), an unapologetic social justice warrior and crypto-socialist, installed his wife, Chirlane McCray, as the executive director of  the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, NYC’s nonprofit foundation. Under the previous mayor, the Fund had raised tens of millions of dollars annually for a wide range of projects, from anti-poverty initiatives to Superstorm Sandy recovery. McCray cannot receive a salary for her job, though the mayor has complained bitterly about this. Nepotism is outlawed under the City Charter in Chapter 68 which forbids public servants using their positions “to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.”

Under the leadership of McCray,  fundraising for the Mayor’s Fund has stalled. In the Bloomberg years, the nonprofit raised an average of $32 million per year, while under Mrs. de Blasio’s stewardship  it has raised an average of $22 million annually, a third less. This may be explained in part by the fact that she often isn’t working at her job. She has attended fewer than half of the meetings of the Fund’s board, and spends just an hour each week on the foundation’s business. It is June, and the New York Times reports that she hasn’t  visited the Fund’s offices in 2018, and was largely absent in the latter half of 2017. As the fund’s revenues have dived, its expenses have soared 50% since she took over,  with the organization moved into bigger offices. The Fund also supports fewer projects.

Sniffs the Times in an editorial, “the Mayor’s Fund under Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray has done less with more.”

De Blasio, who has pretty much solidified his reputation as a jerk, defended his wife by saying that she had done “an extraordinary job,” insisting to critics that  “You’re missing what her work is about.”

Her work is about raising money, and she’s not doing that very well. As the Times says, the first rule of fund-raising is to show up.  Mrs. Mayor helpfully added,  “It’s not about who can raise the most money.” Wait, what? Has anyone explained to her what her job is?

Then de Blasio said this, thus causing the proverbial light bulb to go off in my head, as he perfectly illustrated a rationalization that has somehow missed inclusion on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List:

“She does all that for zero dollars a year.”

“All that” meaning “a crummy job.”

Say hello. Mr. Mayor,  to… Continue reading

Saturday Evening Ethics Update, 4/14/2018: Important Women Die Too, Fundraising Insanity, And Campus Segregation Is “In” Again

Good evening, everyone!

(This morning was completely unmanageable…)

1. This day in history..April 14 belongs with December 7, November 22 and September 11 as the four evil dates in American history, for Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on this day in 1865, yanking the course of events into a new riverbed. Who knows where we might be today if Booth had been foiled?

2. Oh, yeah, themThe New York Times is suddenly including more obituaries of women in its pages, the result of a ridiculously late realization last month that the paper’s  stories of death warranting special note had been overwhelmingly male from the paper’s birth. In March, the paper confessed,

Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones.

Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.

It is a welcome reform. The Times is also looking back over history to remedy the past bias and injustice, launching a special project to publish, a bit late, many of those obituaries that it had failed to write when remarkable women died. You can find the latest additions here.

3. What’s going on here? Wall Street billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman agreed to give $25 million to the Abington, Pennsylvania high school he attended  in the 1960s. The money would finance  a massive upgrade in the facility. The school, in return, agreed to name the school in his honor, hang a portrait of him in the building, honor his twin brothers elsewhere in the school, and give him the right to review the project’s contractors and approve a new school logo.

Then the deal was announced. Local residents appeared at a standing-room-only, five-hour school board meeting last week to protest.  There was an online petition (naturally), and calls for school officials to resign.  And what was it about the quid pro quo that the people objected to? The quote from Robert Durham, who works at the local Chevrolet dealership and sent two sons through Abington Senior High School is explanatory as any:

“I just think there’s too much influence about big money, Wall Street money, in our society,” he told reporters.

Oh. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets

Good Morning!

1 Oh no! Not my permanent record! My wife gave a small contribution to Mitt  Romney’s campaign, and has been hounded by RNC robocalls and mailings ever since. GOP fundraising started getting really slimy under the indefensible Michael Steele’s leadership, and continued to use unethical methods after Steele went on to job at a bait shop or something. Last week my wife got an envelope in the mail with a block red DELINQUENCY NOTICE! printed on it. A lie, straight up: there was no delinquency, just a my wife’s decision that she would rather burn a C-note than give it to the fools and knaves running the Republican Party. She registered an official complaint with the RNC, and received this response from Dana Klein, NRCC Deputy Finance Director:

“My job as the Deputy Finance Director is to communicate with supporters to let them know the status of their NRCC Sustaining Membership. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. As of right now, you have a delinquency mark on your record for your failure to renew your membership. But, I have some good news. You can remove this delinquency mark if you renew by the FEC deadline on Wednesday.”

Both my wife and I were professional fundraisers for many years. This is deceptive and coercive fundraising, and anyone who voluntarily supports an organization that uses such tactics is a victim or an idiot.

Or, I suppose, a Republican.

2. Another one…This is another one of the statements that I am pledged to expose every time I read or hear it: a Maryland legislator, enthusing over the likelihood that a ballot initiative will result in legalizing pot in the state, ran off the usual invalid, disingenuous and foolish rationalizations for supporting measure. (Don’t worry, pot-lovers: I’m resigned to this happening, not just in Maryland, but nation wide. As with the state lotteries, our elected officials will trade the public health and welfare for easy revenue every time. Minorities and the poor will be the most hurt, and the brie and pot set couldn’t care less.) Only one of his familiar bad arguments triggered my mandatory response pledge: ” to legalize a drug that is less harmful than alcohol.”

This is the bottom of the rationalization barrel, “it’s not the worst thing.” Alcohol is a scourge of society, killing thousands upon thousands every year, ruining families and lives, wrecking businesses, costing the economy millions of dollars. Just yesterday there was a report that fetal alcohol syndrome was far more common that previously believed. There is no question, none, that U.S. society would be healthier and safer without this poison accepted in the culture: unfortunately, it was too deeply embedded before serious efforts were made to remove it. Now pot advocates want to inflict another damaging recreational drug on society, using the argument that it’s not as terrible as the ones we’re already stuck with. Stipulated: it’s not as harmful as alcohol. It’s not as harmful as Russian Roulette or eating Tidepods either. I have a bias against taking seriously advocates who use arguments like this; it means they re either liars, and know their logic is absurd, or idiots, and don’t.

3. Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross casting ethics, weak and lazy school administrators, political-correctness bullies-in-training with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”?

Answer: a cancelled high school musical, and per se racism supported by the school.

New York’s Ithaca High School was beginning production of the Disney film-based musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” but made the unforgivable error, in the eyes of student activists,  of casting of a white student as a Romani heroine Esmeralda, played in the classic film by that gypsy wench, Maureen O’Hara, and in the Disney version by a Toon.  Several students quit the show in protest,  and formed an activist group to reverse the decision. It sent a letter calling the casting “cultural appropriation” and “whitewashing,” calling the student the “epitome of whiteness.” The letter admitted that she was also “a stellar actor, singer and dancer” that any stage would be “lucky to have,” but what is the talent, skill and competence required for a role compared to what really matters, her skin color? The students demanded that the school either choose a different show or recast Esmeralda a black and brown actress. Continue reading