Watch Out For The Motive Police

I love New York: the people, the arts, and all the other things that make it a great city. But right now, I am not very fond of the 26 City Council members who recently demanded that Wal-Mart and The Walton Family Foundation stop making generous gifts to charities in the city. Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it?  And, of course it is.

A week after Wal-Mart announced that it had given $3 million to various groups in the Big Apple during 2013, this simple majority of the 51 Council members fired off a letter saying “We know how desperate you are to find a foothold in New York City to buy influence and support here…stop spending your dangerous dollars in our city.” Wal-Mart has been trying unsuccessfully to open a store in New York City for a decade and has faced opposition, particularly from labor groups.

Somehow I have a hard time seeing much danger in the $1 million Wal-Mart gave the New York Women’s Foundation, which promotes economic opportunity for women and girls. Leaders from groups which received the Wal-Mart gifts denounced these 26 Council members and the company said it had no intention of ending its giving.

This seems to me to be a public admission by the Council majority that it does not have the courage of its own convictions. If they believe that a Wal-Mart store is not in the best interests of the City then they are free to continue voting that way even if the company generates some good will with its gifts. They don’t know and I don’t know what motivated the gifts, but their suspicions shouldn’t be used to punish charities trying to do good work when there are no claims of any inappropriate strings being attached.

Contrast their limpid response to the courage of Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, after it received a $25 million gift, primarily for scholarships, from Charles and David Koch’s Koch Industries. He said that if he has to “bear the brunt of someone else’s criticism to ensure that we have the resources to help those students, then I can handle it, and I can take the heat.”

Catholic University responded similarly to criticism of the Koch Foundation’s $1 million gift to support four visiting scholars to do research on principled entrepreneurship.

The Koch brothers have even picked up some criticism for their extensive philanthropy in Wichita where they are headquartered, although it appears most folks there are very appreciative of the good the gifts do.

That, after all, is the point. Gifts do good things. I can’t see any role for motive police as long as the gift is made appropriately.