Saturday, October 17, 2009

Disgusting Move By Cleveland Museum Violates Donor Intent Part One

I've been far too overwhelmed to post on this IMO, very important topic earlier. This happens with subjects that piss me off or move me emotionally. I always feel, I should do a perfect post; wonderfully written with links and quotes from every scource and then pretty soon I just let it go. The pile of major insults against freedom and what used to be called the rule of law grows so big, you just don't know where to start. This will be a two part post.

As bad as attacks on the living are, they still might have a chance to defend themselves. The dead have no such chance and to violate their last wishes is vile crime at least to me.

Respecting people's charitable bequests can raise tough issues, the first of which I might describe as "the dead hand problem". Suppose for example, you were very, rich in 1830 and left all your money in an endowment for those suffering from Smallpox. The disease is gone, the endowment remains and one has to make a guess as to what the donor might have wanted. This is a very common problem.

Another issue that can come up is that an endowment or foundation can grow beyond what might be resonably used for the donor's stated purpose. A great example is the Milton S Hershey Trust.

"Established in 1935 by Milton Hershey, The M.S. Hershey Foundation was created to provide educational and cultural opportunities for the citizens of Derry Township. In the early years, The M.S. Hershey Foundation concentrated on providing educational opportunities through the former Hershey Junior College, The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center — a teaching hospital, and the former Hershey Educational and Cultural Center — an alternative to formal education. The Foundation also helped manage the sports and recreation programs of the Hershey Recreation Center at Cocoa Plaza before turning over operations to Derry Township.

Starting in 1970, the Foundation continued its mission to provide cultural and educational opportunities to the Hershey community by assuming operation of Hershey Theatre.

In the 1980s, the Foundation accepted responsibility for Hershey Gardens and Hershey Museum (now The Hershey Story). The Foundation also helped establish the Hershey Community Archives in 1985 and in 1990 took ownership of ChocolateTown Square community park. Most recently, in January 2009, the Foundation established The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue in downtown Hershey as a welcome addition to furthering its mission.

Milton S. Hershey established the non-profit M.S. Hershey Foundation for the educational and cultural enrichment of Derry Township residents and visitors. When he set aside 5000 shares of company stock in 1935, he couldn't have possibly envisioned that in the 21st century, the Foundation would support five outstanding sites - The Hershey Story, Hershey Gardens, Hershey Theatre, Hershey Community Archives and ChocolateTown Square. As The M.S. Hershey Foundation has expanded its scope, so has the need for community support."

Here you have a high class problem. The Hershey Company grew to a point at which the shares left in the trust could do more than just provide for the school the money was left for. People then guessed that the donor wished the money to support the Hershey community and one now has all this great stuff.

Often it's sort of a gray area (but usually it's not) For example, The Buck Trust was an foundation left by a couple in California who explicitly stated the money be used to only support causes in Marin County.This attracted people in San Francisco, who felt it was "needed more there", and that this need gave them the sacred right to break into the cash box.

"The award Friday by Judge Homer B. Thompson ended the San Francisco Foundation's lawsuit to amend the will of Beryl Buck, which stipulated that the trust fund's money go only to charities in wealthy Marin County."

A whole lot of legal fighting has ensued.

Of course one of the most famous recent cases has to do with the $5 Billion estate of Leona Helmsley who she clearly left to animal welfare causes.

“Mrs. Helmsley’s Trust Agreement and Mission Statement were clear: Help dogs. And the Trustees have not done this. Instead they pursued their own agendas with Mrs. Helmsley’s money,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

“Every person with a will or estate—and every charity that relies on bequest income—should be profoundly concerned about this misdirection of funds.”

The trustees point out that just part of the funds left by Mrs. Helmsley could be enough to empty all the animal shelters in the country. But, whatever one might think of the wisdom of this cause--the prime fact is that we have no moral right at all to decide for her. None of the bequests of these people be called in anyway unreasonable. They just might not be what we would have done.

The same disregard for donor wishes has happened with museums but few drop to the level of criminal hubris displayed by The Cleveland Museum Of Art.

Part Two soon

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