Fake Charities Update: The Unethical Conduct That Makes All Of Us Worse

scamsIt’s one of the world’s oldest scams, one of the most lucrative and perhaps the most damaging: people preying on the best instincts of human beings to take their money for personal gain. The internet has made it easier to do than ever, and the  con is flourishing. I don’t often write about the incidents when they arise, in part because there’s nothing to argue about: everybody agrees that it’s not just unethical conduct, but bordering on evil. Fake charities are worse than scams, however, because they actively make people less kind, generous and caring for their own protection. Every fake charity exposed makes it harder for real charities to help people who genuinely need it. Like a friend of mine who never helped a homeless person again after seeing a beggar whom he had just given 20 bucks on a New York City street briefly get out of his battered wheel chair and nimbly run over to get a cigarette from a compatriot, those who stop trusting pleas for help seldom start trusting again. The fakes make us less kind and generous, and that makes society worse for everyone.

Fake charities large and small have been much in the news lately, so a little catch-up is warranted. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: The Sweet Briar Alumnae And Their Supporters

victory

What an inspiring story! I hoped, and I so wanted to believe, but I confess that I really thought that the traitorous, unethical Sweet Briar College board had delivered a fatal blow to this storied all-woman’s college by operating by surprise and stealth, waiting to announce its plan to close the institution so late in the academic year as to render counter-measures futile.

Like that disgraceful crew, I underestimated the determined women of Sweet Briar and their allies.

From the Washington Post:

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s office announced Saturday night that an agreement has been reached to keep Sweet Briar College open next year.

The agreement, which requires court approval, involves a $12 million commitment from an alumnae group and permission from the attorney general to release $16 million from the school’s endowment.

The president of the private women’s college in rural Virginia shocked many in March when he abruptly announced that the college, which is more than 100 years old, would close in the summer. Since then, supporters have been working feverishly to save the school, protesting, raising money and filing lawsuits challenging the closure.

On Saturday, Herring’s office announced that — if Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James W. Updike Jr. approves the agreement — Saving Sweet Briar, the alumnae group, would give $12 million for the operation of the college for the 2015-2016 year, with the first $2.5 million installment to be delivered in early July….

Both the alumnae group and other challengers to the closure say the funding would be enough to keep the school operating for the 2015-2016 academic year.

The agreement comes barely a month before the historic school was slated to close — and in advance of court hearings on multiple lawsuits. It does not resolve the ongoing issues that the school’s current leadership cited in making the decision to close, such as concerns about enrollment and revenue. It does not explain where next year’s class will come from, since accepted students were told to apply elsewhere and current students were told to transfer. But it provides a stopgap…

Leadership would change: If the agreement is approved, at least 13 board members would resign, and 18 new ones would be appointed — a majority that would control the board… Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Obamas’ “Private Party”

prince

President Obama and his wife, Michelle invited about 500 guests to a White House party where pop icons Prince and Stevie Wonder entertained guests. Among the guests were Al Sharpton, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his date, singer Ciara, Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Tyler Perry, Connie Britton, Angela Bassett, Gayle King, Tracee Ellis Ross, fashion designer Naeem Kha, American Express exec Ken Chenault,  former Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as well as about 480 others of doubtlessly equal glitter who didn’t squeal about the blow-out on Twitter or Instagram or who weren’t mentioned by other guests who did.

The party was not mentioned on the President’s official schedule, and it almost managed to occur without publicity until the White House news briefing on Monday afternoon, when Josh Earnest was grilled about it. The White House spokesman said two interesting things, one audacious in its blatant dishonesty and Orwellian logic, and the other ….interesting. The first:

“I think the fact that we’re talking about a private event and the fact that details of this are known is an indication that the president is committed to being transparent. At the same time, the president and first lady are going to reserve the right to host private parties at the White House, and they did it on their own dime.”

Further proving how transparent the President was, Earnest announced that no guest list would be provided to the press or the public. Now that’s transparency. The other statement:

[T]”he President and First Lady are going to reserve the right to host private parties at the White House, and they did it on their own dime. I think that’s consistent with the kinds of values that they have talked about.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

“Are there any ethical problems with the Obama’s “private party”?

Continue reading

Vindictive Gay Activists, Destroying Diversity In Order To Save It

"Of course you have the right to support whatever candidate you choose...as long as you can handle THE CONSEQUENCES, you traitors!"

“Of course you have the right to support whatever candidate you choose…as long as you can handle THE CONSEQUENCES, you disgusting traitors!”

Ah, another month, another example of vengeful gay activists setting out to destroy anyone who dares to disagree with them. Last month it was the gay fashion designers who dared to express a non-conforming view about same sex adoptions. The April victims are gay men who have the audacity to be conservative Republicans.

The nasty and undemocratic boycott tactics of gay activists are going to deeply wound free speech and  societal comity unless they are stopped. I am trying to think of a peaceful, fair, ethical way to stop them.  As usual, the first step is declaring how wrong they are.

The latest victims are Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, two gay New York City real estate developers who own nearly three-quarters of the real estate in Fire Island Pines and LGBT-oriented hotel, The OUT NYC. They committed the crime, in the eyes of the intolerant and rigid LGBY community, of hosting a fundraiser for arch conservative and Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Maybe they did it because they don’t like Obamacare. Maybe they did it because they admire Cruz’s guts and dedication to Constitutional principles (other than equal justice under the law, but never mind). Maybe they did it because this is a free country and they have a right to support any damn candidate they choose, even a <gasp!> Republican.

But because Cruz is a gay marriage opponent as well as hostile to gay rights generally, the LGBT community has marked Reisner and Mati Weiderpass for destruction as traitors. After all, gays should have equal rights, just not the equal rights to support whatever candidate they choose to like every straight American. How ironic! The vindictive, coercive boycotts have already started, with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS  the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus both cancelling their annual even at a Weiderpass and Reisner property. Continue reading

The Sweet Briar Betrayal

white-flag-2

After 114 years, Sweet Briar College, the venerable women-only college in rural Virginia, announced Tuesday that this will be its final year despite strong alumnae support and more than $90 million left in its endowment, even after several years of running a deficit.

Paul G. Rice, board chair, said that he realized some would ask, “Why don’t you keep going until the lights go out?” but that doing so would be wrong. “We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae. If you take up this decision too late, you won’t be able to meet those obligations,” he said. “People will carve up what’s left — it will not be orderly, nor fair.”

Well, at least the board is taking this lying down.

Rice’s excuse is nonsense, and the board’s action  is an abdication of a difficult duty, not an acceptance of one. Non profits have missions, and their boards are obligated to keep pursuing that mission until it becomes hopeless, not until it becomes tough. Yes, small colleges face challenges, and single-sex education has been out of favor since the Sixties. On the other hand, feminists are making the case that co-ed universities are little better than hunting grounds where women are the helpless prey of serial rapists. Surely Sweet Briar’s niche might become an asset with some vision and leadership. Continue reading

Is The President Checking Out A “High Crime or Misdemeanor”?

Toppled-King

Anyone who understands President Obama’s behavior the last few months is invited to step forward, and anyone who has a benign explanation for it need to step in front of him. It is so bizarre and unprecedented that amateurs and professionals alike are offering psychological diagnoses. Has any American leader ever responded to failure, adversity and crisis with this kind of a disgraceful combination of defiance, bitterness, and detachment? I can’t think of any.

It is said that during the darkest days of Watergate, President Nixon sank into depression. Franklin Pierce coped with the stress of watching the Union unravel over slavery by staying smashed as much as possible. Woodrow Wilson’s battles with Congress probably helped provoke the stroke that incapacitated him. None of these are really comparable to the current President sinking to gratuitous campaign mode, calling Republicans derogatory names and impugning their motives and humanity, while openly alternating between obsessive fundraising and vacationing the rest of the time as the world is desperate for American leadership.

Say what you will about Bill Clinton, and I often do, but the man never capitulated, gave up, or stopped battling no matter how much (legitimate) fire he was under during the Monica scandal and his impeachment. At very least, one would think Barack Obama would see the need, as past Presidents have, to model virtues like diligence, responsibility, fortitude, courage, and perseverance for the nation, especially the young.

Nope. Continue reading

This Time, The Kid “Living His (Parent’s) Dream” Is Dead. Still Inspired?

teen-pilot-crash

Pointing out the breach of ethics when parents endanger children by allowing, encouraging, pushing, or forcing them to risk their lives before they are old enough to comprehend what risking their life means has been a periodic theme on Ethics Alarms. There was 16-year old Abby Sunderland, who had to be rescued from an attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo. Paul Romero sent his son Jordan, 13, out to be the youngest to climb Mount Everest. In April of this year, the Coast Guard had to rescue the sick one-year-old of Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, who brought the baby and their three-year old along as they tried to circumnavigate the globe in their yacht. (Never mind, they all had life jackets.). Less likely to be fatal but epic in its length was the ordeal “the Biking Vogels” put their twin sons through, as they were forced to live on bicycles for years while their parents lived out their low-tech “Easy Rider” fantasies, peddling across America.

As was bound to happen, another set of parents in this unethical club  have met with tragedy of their own engineering. Haris Suleman and his father, Babar Suleman, from Plainfield, Indiana, were attempting to fly around the world with the newly licensed  teen piloting their single-engine aircraft. The journey, to be completed in 30 days, would have set a record. Gotta set those records!  The Biking Vogels were determined to set a record too.

As the plane piloted by a 17-year-old novice pilot took off from an airport in Pago Pago in American Samoa, it suddenly lost power and crashed into the water. The boy is dead; the father’s body has yet to be found. Continue reading

The Perfect Scam

Victorias Victories

It appears that a family in Jackson, Mississippi has pulled off the perfect scam. Victoria Wilcher, 3, was mauled by her grandfather’s dogs, and needs extensive plastic surgery. A website, Victoria’s Victories, was put up the family to raise funds for her care, and really got a boost after the girl’s grandmother, Kelly Mullins, claimed that the child had been asked to leave a local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise because, they were told, Victoria’s scarred face was upsetting patrons. The story went viral on the web, and more than $135,000 poured in from outraged and sympathetic Americans, including $30,000 from a frightened KFC.

Mission accomplished. Now it appears that a full-fledged hoax is unraveling. KFC, looking for someone to fire, can’t find any record of Victoria on surveillance footage for the day and time she was supposedly ejected. The girl’s grandmother and her aunt who runs the website can’t get their stories straight, citing varying dates and fingering various KFC stores, including one that has been shut down for months. The investigation is ongoing, but no confirming witnesses have come forward, and nobody can verify the socking tale of the cruelly-shunned little girl, who has already suffered so much.

Perfect! Since the object of the hoax is blameless, and the objective can be rationalized, and because the victim is just a mean old corporation that sells deadly fast food, the ends–getting money to repair a little girl’s damaged face–will certainly be regarded by many and perhaps most as justifying the means—lies, slander, libel, disparagement, and fraud. Continue reading

Fundraising Ethics Controversy in Michigan! Naming Buildings After Big University Donors: Ethical or Not?

Enron-Field

I worked in the development (capital fundraising) office of Georgetown University for many years, and am well aware of the sausage-making that goes into attracting big donations. Thus the controversy that recently erupted in Michigan is of interest both for its ethical content and the way it dances around inconvenient truths.

With the college student’s wonderful knack for avoiding the obvious, the student newspaper of Grand Valley (Michigan) State University declared ethics war on what it called “billboards”: buildings and lecture halls named after corporate and individual donors. With naivete and boundless ignorance of the world of philanthropy and non-profit fundraising, the editorial declared (among other things)…

  • “What’s next? Will we turn Lake Huron 133 into the “Amway Lecture Hall?” Will the backs of our chairs have plaques dedicated to the lower-level donors?” COMMENT: For enough money, of course the university would rename the hall. Why should it care what a lecture hall is called, if it can avoid having to raise tuition? As for the backs of seats: did the editors do any research at all? Opera companies, theaters, museaums and other non-profit entities do exactly this. So what?

Continue reading

The Curse of Michael Steele Lives On

Past-DueDuring the deplorable reign of Michael Steele as chair of the Republican National Committee, the RNC set new lows for deceptive fundraising practices, bordering on mail fraud. Replacing Steele with the superficially less ridiculous Reince Priebus has failed to dispel Steele’s lingering curse, and here is the latest example.

Yesterday, a brown envelope arrived at Chez Marshall with a block red message “Past Due” on it. We get a number of such envelopes—fewer now than a while back—but they are always a cause for alarm. This one, however, was a fake. Back in 2012 when, if you remember, there was a campaign going on, my wife, for the first time in her life, sent a small contribution to the Romney camp. As a result of that wasted gesture, we have received an average of ten phone calls a week from the RNC seeking funds, prompting my wife to tell every caller, futilely, of course, that any party that could not defeat Barack Obama wasn’t worthy for her money or anyone else’s, and to stop with the calls already. Naturally, this has had no effect, leading me to remind her, as when she imprudently ordered some kind of miracle anti-aging cream from Madagascar over the internet, “I warned you!”

It turned out that this urgent letter was also from the RNC, using the “Past Due” stamp to fool us into opening it rather than sending it directly into the trash. Nothing was past due, of course, though the enclosed donor card was falsely labelled a “statement,” and we were asked to “renew” a “membership” we never agreed to, and had no benefits, other than the pleasure of being harassed for money. Continue reading