Monday, February 04, 2008

Post-racial politics II

Just when a post-racial politics emerges as a possibility (in the minds of some), the news from the provinces (in this case Sacramento and Berkeley) slams us back to reality.

Today's WSJ includes "The Color of Charity" (below). If there is to be an Obama nomination, the big question is whether he will be willing and able to publicly distance himself from the crazies. Even the first black president had his Sister Souljah moment.

Just when we thought we'd heard everything from the diversity
police, here they come trying to prescribe even the color of charity. The
California Assembly last week passed a bill sponsored by state Representative
Joe Coto to require foundations with assets of more than $250 million to
disclose the race, gender and sexual orientation of their trustees, staff, and
even grantees. Look for this to arrive in a legislature near

A Berkeley-based advocacy group called the Greenlining
Institute hatched this idea because, allegedly, racial minorities aren't well
enough represented in California policy debates. John Gamboa, Greenlining's
executive director, blames foundations for failing to donate enough money to
"minority-led" think tanks and community groups and businesses, and he hopes
this legislation will "shame" them into giving more. What counts as a
minority-led organization? According to Greenlining, the board and staff should
both be more than 50% minority.
This certainly takes the spoils system of
racial preferences to a whole new level. Heretofore the government has tried to
enforce a pigmentation principle in government jobs and contracts, and in
private employment through the threat of lawsuits. But this is about telling
private citizens how to give their own money away.

Mr. Gamboa says these philanthropies have tax-exempt status,
so the public has a right to this information. "Minorities are paying a little
more in taxes but are not receiving their fair share of benefits," he says. This
seems an odd claim, since so much private charity is targeted explicitly at
minorities. But it makes sense once you understand that what he means is that
not enough of this cash is channelled through certain minority-run activist
groups, such as, well, his own. It's no accident that such ethnic lobbies as the
Black Business Association and the Centro Legal de la Raza also love this

There's also the little problem of accountability and donor
intent. Private citizens typically establish foundations with specific
charitable goals in mind -- such as wetlands conservation, or medical research,
or even promoting free market ideas. If donors are suddenly supposed to allocate
grants by the color or sexual lifestyle of the grantee, that donor intent will
be distorted at the very least. Presumably we want money for cancer research to
support the most promising research ideas, not to be based on whether the labs
have a rainbow coalition of Ph.Ds. The goal is to cure cancer.

Paul Brest is a former NAACP attorney and president of the
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, California's largest foundation. And in a
letter to the state Assembly on Mr. Coto's proposal, he put it this way: "[Our]
fundamental operating principle is to direct our resources to organizations that
have the promise of making the greatest difference in achieving [our
philanthropic] goals. Thus, we do not focus on the racial composition of our
grantees, but rather on how to achieve measurable impact in improving the lives
of the communities that our grant recipients serve."

Lest you think this idea is too wacky to go anywhere, it is
also expected to pass the California Senate and could soon land on Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk. The Greenlining staff is already lobbying House
Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel for Congressional hearings. Foundations
and charities that don't want to start apportioning their donations by skin
color, or between gays and heterosexuals, had better start describing this idea
as the political shakedown it is.