[Hpn] Bush's Charity Plan Hasn't Got a Prayer;Washington Watch;Business Week;6/25/01

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Mon, 25 Jun 2001 13:35:16 -0400



-------Forwarded commentary-------

Monday, June 25, 2001
Business Week <http://www.businessweek.com>

Washington Watch
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 
explosive stuff.

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 
approve of.

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 <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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