Giving away our money

I’ve previously said this, politicians have an erroneous propensity to violate fiducial responsibilities by giving away the public’s money—confiscated by the police power of the state—to charities that they arbitrarily decide deserve it more than those who earned it.

This is not only contemptibly disdainful of their constituents, but highly unethical. Private parties having a relationship of trust or responsibility in obligations to others could face criminal charges should they give away money entrusted to them. Yet, time after time we read about governments at all levels willfully handing out public funds to private charities and business interests.

A recent example of this foul political practice appeared in an article by Hunter Ingram and Adam Wagner in the July 5, 2016 print issue of the Wilmington, North Carolina StarNews (not available online). Of course it’s business-as-usual for the New Hanover County commissioners and the Wilmington City Council. They annually pass on our money to “a lengthy list of agencies competing for a limited pool of money”—as though it was from their own personal piggy bank.

For example, in its current budget the county commissioners generously funded 37 “nonprofits” with $1.13 million of taxpayer’s hard earned money; the liberal city council “spread nearly $1.6 million across 42 agencies” (one reason city taxes are double what they are in the county).

Government managers bring the requests (including their own favorites) to our local legislators. Five councilors and five commissioners decide who gets how much. Few question the reason they are presented with this unnecessary, immoral spending. Often the politicians have a too-cozy relationship with the recipients of their charitable spirit.

County commission Chairwomen, Beth Dawson, justifies this cronyism with political jargon. Quoted in the article, she said, “it is important for commissioners to fill a seat on a number of boards to make sure the body as a whole remains aware of what local organizations contribute to the county and how, if possible, the county can help.”

We don’t care what a handful of local politicians think nongovernment agencies “contribute,” but we do care when they decide to give them our money. It’s unconscionable.

Woody White, one of only two conservative and responsible members of the Board, recognizes and reveals this scam. White said, “(A)n organization can receive more attention if a commissioner serves on its board and has formed a relationship….” Of course, commissioners become advocates of these factions rather than watchdogs over our money.

All the “agencies” have narrow self-interests, and many can’t survive without public money. It should be unethical for public officials responsible to all the citizens to serve these ad hoc groups; clearly a conflict of interest.

Yet most of our politicians and bureaucrats are more interested in the “process” of handing out money than the ethics of it. Chris Coudriet, county manager, explained that candidates for funding must explain in detail their mission and show how they “serve one of the county’s stated priorities.” Wilmington Mayor Saffo said, “I think the process is very thorough.”

But the process is irrelevant because the thinking is flawed. Our legislators stretch government’s “mission” way beyond its purpose to include payoffs for arts, sports, entertainment, social clubs and old downtown private business interests.

What are some of the activities presumed to deserve our money without our votes?

StarNews reporters list the “Top 5 organizations funded” by the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County politicians based on the 2016-17 budgets:

  • City- Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts:   $132,664
  •          Wilmington Regional Film Commission:    $121,890
  •          Good Shepherd Ministries:                             $117,523
  •          Wilmington Business Development:            $100,000
  •          UNC Wilmington Track:                                  $100,000
  • County- Wilmington Business Development:      $193,093
  •                 UNC Wilmington Track:                           $167,000
  •                 Wilmington Film Commission:               $120,620
  •                 Coastal Horizons Center:                          $100,000
  •                 Wilmington Downtown, Inc.:                   $ 65,000


If anyone reading this can make the case that these activities help protect our safety, liberties and property—the legitimate functions of government—please do so. As for me, it’s improper that these unscrupulous people give our money away to their favorite charities and business connections. They wrongly claim to represent we (all) the people.



About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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