Last night I drove up to a quaint resort on the other side of the mountains for a reception and check presentations to people throughout the state, all representing organizations that do a variety of good things. I was among those recipients, but while I use donations to buy corn starch by the gross, crates of paper clips, and a variety of gyroscopes, other organizations were using their funding to support crisis centers, women’s shelters, and supports of inner city youth. I was humbled to be among the many, many groups represented and their overall mission for social equity and help to those in need.
But that wasn’t the strangest piece of all this. What always strikes me, and what struck me particularly this time around, was the source of the funding. I can’t make this stuff up — I’m not creative enough to invent the following paradox that has had me flummoxed. Let me step you through it as I’m trying to find sense in it:
- The granting foundation is the creation of a benefactor who is a seasoned, senior senator of my current state of residence. By almost every definition imaginable, he is a conservative, social and fiscal, and even though I’ve voted for his opponent in every election I can remember while living here, he’s retained his office and a high rank in Washington.
- The foundation, I’ve learned from news coverage of some internal leaks, in addition to some easy inference, is a place where people who want the ear of a senator can donate. In the charitable foundation, contributions can be made even when a politician’s political campaign has reached its legal capacity. As a result, this particular foundation for this particular senator gets lots of contributions from pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies. I lovingly refer to any money I get from the foundation as my “drug money.” Let me be clear that I try not to pass judgement on this. The senator clearly wants certain entities to benefit; he seems to honestly admire the work that the beneficiaries are taking on; we all know that a giant drug company probably isn’t going to give directly to a youth program. That is, this is just a kind of socialist enterprise, personally undertaken by my conservative senator.
- But, that’s where it gets really weird for me. The senator’s taken some moderate stances, but overall he campaigns on conservative principles. That is, even though it isn’t fair to generalize, he generally takes a stance that we’re all better off if we’re all left to our own devices. He opposes government interference, and he’ll campaign on this …
- … and, this is even more critical in these times. In spite of the fact that the senator is a multi term representative of our state and his party, there are ultra conservative challenges from his own party that could unseat him. (I wouldn’t have believed that this is possible, except that this very thing happened to our other senator.) To combat this, he’ll need to show his own party and everyone else that he is even more conservative, more anti-government, tough on spending cuts, and opposed to any tax increases, even if it were to fund social programs that might be needed by his constituents. In the past, the senator actually has had a history of co-sponsoring legislation with those across the aisle, and someone I met at this same gathering explained that the women’s shelter he sits on the board for benefits from federal funds that were appropriated by this conservative senator’s legislation — co-sponsored by a senior member from the left.
- So, this person who runs the foundation that redistributes the money to go to the children and families in need all across the state will now need to run on a platform that emphasizes that we should not spend money for the needs of the children and family. If he doesn’t do this with a convincing zeal, he loses his seat even before he has a chance at the general election.
- And, if he doesn’t get re-elected, then he isn’t a person of power, a person who’s paid attention to, a person who would be worth the attention of donors from drug companies. In other words, it’s hard to imagine that his foundation could continue to bring in money. Which, I’m sorry to say, would mean that I would need to start shopping for another foundation — which I probably should do anyway, because no one gets to be senator forever, and there never is any guarantee from year to year.
To sum up: If the senator doesn’t campaign (and win) on not redistributing wealth to those in need, then he won’t have contributors to the foundation he runs that redistributes wealth to those in need. This hurts my head. I’m sure it’s all rationalized in the senator’s own head and heart, so I would love to have him explain it all to me someday. For now, I’ll accept what is, what I can get, and the fact that I need to work harder not only for the money my program continues to receive, but for social justice writ large. Along the way, I’ll try to wrap my head around the many paradoxes that creep in.