Funny man Jerry Lewis died in Las Vegas earlier this week, aged 91. The obits have been flowing and many have pointed out his involvement with charity groups. He wasn’t just a performer, he was a philanthropist. Mr Lewis had a long relationship with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), hosting an annual telethon from 1966-2010 and raising upwards of $1 billion for the charity group. The work of Jerry Lewis highlights the not-so-subtle differences between charities and lobbyists. A charity involves giving voluntary assistance to those who need it, while a lobby group seeks to influence government decision making. The latter has a number of rules and regulations attached to it.
Mr Lewis was a philanthropist until 2011, when he asked for taxpayer funding for muscular dystrophy research. By taking this request to a senate subcommittee, the line between charity and lobbyist was crossed. All of a sudden Mr Lewis became a lobbyist and the respect was gone. You can’t respect a lobbyist — they just want to steal money.
This is an occurrence of growing regularity, where the libertarian value of individual choice is now challenged by the appeal of majority rules. It’s also leading to a lack of philanthropy in Australia.
Why charities have more integrity than lobbyists
Charity and government make for uncomfortable bedfellows. Charity ties well with the libertarian view of independence while government is well known for complicating everything it gets involved with. Through lobbying, a certain level of control is being relinquished (another value that doesn’t sit well with a libertarian).
Expecting taxpayers to help fund research is theft. Asking if they would like to contribute is charity. Another instance of the ‘fraudulent’ use of the word philanthropist is where business leaders spend shareholders money on high profit, feel-good causes whilst that business leader wallows in warmth by describing themselves as a philanthropist.
My suggestion — look deeply whenever you see that word philanthropist.