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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/7/15

The Big Chill: How Big Money Is Buying Off Criticism of Big Money

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When the Charles Koch Foundation pledges $1.5 million to Florida State University's economics department, it stipulates that a Koch-appointed advisory committee will select professors and undertake annual evaluations.

The Koch brothers now fund 350 programs at over 250 colleges and universities across America. You can bet that funding doesn't underwrite research on inequality and environmental justice.

David Koch's $23 million of donations to public television earned him positions on the boards of two prominent public-broadcasting stations. It also guaranteed that a documentary critical of the Kochs didn't air.

As Ruby Lerner, president and founding director of Creative Capital, a grant making institution for the arts, told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, "self-censorship" practiced by public television ... raises issues about what public television means. They are in the middle of so much funding pressure."

David Koch has also donated tens of millions of dollars to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and sits on their boards.

A few weeks ago dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups asked that museums of science and natural history "cut all ties" with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers.

"When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions ... they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge," their statement said.

Even though gift agreements by universities, museums, and other nonprofits often bar donors from being involved in decisions about what's investigated or shown, such institutions don't want to bite hands that feed them.

This isn't a matter of ideology. Wealthy progressives can exert as much quiet influence over the agendas of nonprofits as wealthy conservatives.

It's a matter of big money influencing what should and should not be investigated, revealed, and discussed -- especially when it comes to the tightening nexus between concentrated wealth and political power, and how that power further enhances great wealth.

Philanthropy is noble. But when it's mostly in the hands of a few super-rich and giant corporations, and is the only game available, it can easily be abused.

Our democracy is directly threatened when the rich buy off politicians.

But no less dangerous is the quieter and more insidious buy-off of institutions democracy depends on to research, investigate, expose, and mobilize action against what is occurring.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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