Felicity Huffman’s sentencing to 14 days in jail this week could be a turning point in American charity. It is among the few indictments of a rich person who used their money or influence to gain an advantage for them/their family.
But a change in American attitudes towards charity and a turning point? How so, you might ask.
Huffman, a celebrity and well known figure is among the few who ever get punished for using their money to unduly influence processes. In this case, it was for getting her daughter admitted to the University of Southern California.
At a time when income inequality is a hot button issue and corruption among the elite is a topic that gains attention, the issue of philanthropy and the corruption is breeds is also gaining traction, and for good reason.
I suspect that this case may establish not only a legal precedent but also a moral one that may start questioning the benefits of hi-networth giving and the actual benefits that the giver receives. While the assumption (which holds true in many cases) is that rich folk give money to fulfill some sense of mission or obligation, there are many cases where the motives are not as pure.
Besides, may be living in yet another ‘Gilded Age’, where the rich and mighty bought favors, got laws written in their favor and basically gamed the system. This has happened in the past, with the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Fords.
With several dozen other rich and famous people accused of misusing their money and influence to help their kids get into this top-ranked university, the question naturally arises : Are Americans becoming tired/ jaded of a certain strand of philanthropy :that of the super-rich?
It may be too soon to say that this is a major shift, but there are indications that more people are paying attention.
For sure, there has been a decline in public confidence in public institutions, as this study points out. There has always been a skepticism of hi-networth philanthropy, among the informed segments of American society.
The philanthropic landscape in the US is quite complex, with people’s understandings, motivations and trust varying across levels. While almost 1/3 of philanthropy takes places towards religious institutions, one can see how confidence in religious institutions remains somewhat high, despite various scandals.
However, given the individualistic nature of giving in the US, there seems to be some skepticism of hi-networth giving.
While this scandal involving philanthropy and education may pass, it may awaken a new understanding among people (and perhaps the elite philanthropists too) that buying your way into anything may have consequences. And that hard work may after all, count for something!