[Hpn] Bush's Charity Plan Hasn't Got a Prayer;Washington Watch;Business Week;6/25/01
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 25 Jun 2001 13:35:16 -0400
Monday, June 25, 2001
Business Week <http://www.businessweek.com>
By Richard S. Dunham
Bush's Charity Plan Hasn't Got a Prayer
The President means well when he encourages corporate support for
faith-based groups, but religion and business just don't mix
It's obvious that George W. Bush's born-again experience a decade ago has
fundamentally altered his life. Not only has he given his life over to Jesus
Christ in a spiritual sense, he has used his various public positions as
pulpits for preaching the virtues of giving money to religious groups that
provide social services ranging from day care to prison evangelism.
In that context, it's not surprising that Bush saw an opportunity to preach
the gospel of faith-based charity to a group of America's most prominent
CEOs on June 20. At a gathering of the Business Roundtable in the White
House East Room, the President lamented "how abysmal corporate giving is to
religious organizations whose sole intent is to help people -- people who
have heard the call" of their Lord.
ALIENATING EVERYONE. As pure as Bush's motives are, his dressing down of
the business community is misguided and naive. If there's one subject that
CEOs try to avoid more than politics, it's religion. When corporations get
involved in partisan politics, they instantly anger half of their customers.
But when business leaders tread on religious subjects, they fear they will
alienate the vast majority of their customers who aren't of that same sect
that is being rewarded with special treatment.
Imagine if some major New York area corporation like AT&T donated millions
to the Nation of Islam for well-intentioned programs to convince fathers to
take responsibility for their children. Automatically, how many
Fundamentalist Protestant and Jewish customers would object? Or if Coca-Cola
donated money to a religious pre-school set up by a synagogue in the Atlanta
suburbs? Or if Houston-based Enron Inc. funded Catholic charities to provide
health services to illegal Mexican immigrants in South Texas? This is very
Each of these hypothetical situations would meet Bush's charge to the
Business Roundtable execs to "address the issue of funding faith-based and
community-based groups, whose sole purpose is to make somebody's life
better." But they would cause the corporations far more grief than they
would generate goodwill.
The President's request also goes against the trend in corporate giving.
Rather than giving to a wide variety of local charities, more businesses are
choosing to focus their charitable endeavors on causes related to their core
business. Microsoft and Compaq, for example, donate their products to
educational institutions. Calphalon, the high-end cookware maker, supplies
its equipment -- rather than simply handing over dollars -- to homeless
shelters. And American Express has donated a small amount to charity every
time its customers make a purchase.
KEEP IT PERSONAL. While we can debate whether corporations -- and top
executives -- are sufficiently generous when it comes to charitable
contributions, it is indisputable that leading U.S. businesses give billions
to good causes.
That's not to say that Bush shouldn't urge execs to give their own money to
local churches that provide social services, or to mosques, synagogues, and
Buddhist temples. Indeed, Bush probably would do more by using his own
so-called "bully pulpit" to urge all Americans to give money to faith-based
projects. It probably would be a wise idea to make it a personal cause, just
as Nancy Reagan made her anti-drugs "just say no" campaign a national
There are plenty of other subjects that Bush has every right to prod
corporations to embrace. A few examples: improving public schools, creating
mentor programs, and expanding trade. Each of these areas is good for
America, good for corporations, and good for the next generation of American
COMMON GROUND. But it's a lot different for the President to demand that
corporations wade into the dangerous thicket of religion. Or to ask
taxpayers to pick up the tab for religious programs that they might not
Bush's faith-based initiative is in trouble on Capitol Hill because liberals
and conservatives both have well-founded concerns about real-world
implementation of a compassionate concept. The President needs to change his
strategy. But it's a big mistake to lobby Corporate America, as he seems
bent on doing.
Dunham is a White House correspondent for BusinessWeek's Washington bureau.
Follow his views every Monday in Washington Watch
<http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/washarc.htm>, only on BW Online
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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