Fund-raising in taxpayers' pockets by LegionZ411

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									www.dcexaminer.com >> Marta Mossburg                                                                                                            3/6/09 5:28 PM




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 Fund-raising in taxpayers' pockets
 By Marta Mossburg
 Examiner Columnist | 3/6/09 6:09 AM

 Did you know that you, Joe Taxpayer, are donating $500,000 to build a homeless shelter in Annapolis? Or that
 you are giving $350,000 for a Russian-American cultural center in Baltimore County? Or how about $200,000
 to the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards?

 These are bond bills before the Maryland General Assembly – so you have not technically donated the money
 yet. But they usually pass without a fuss each year. I mean, who can be against giving money to good causes,
 right?

 State senators and delegates regularly direct money to groups where they are board members as The Baltimore
 Examiner reported last year. This makes corralling a legislator to sit on your board potentially a very lucrative
 feat.

 But it does not make taking money from taxpayers to fund pet causes, whether legislators sit on a board or
 not, ethical -- or right. At any time, but especially in this time of financial crisis, it is immoral to indebt
 taxpayers to pay for private charitable causes whose board members should raise money from those who
 choose to donate, not those coerced to by a patron in the state capital.

 Would that all fundraising was as easy as ordering people by force of law to support your cause.

 Alleged worth should not cloud the issue. Let’s take the Sports Legends Museum. Anyone who has visited the
 museum at Camden Yards knows it is a treasure. If you haven’t gone, take your family this weekend. Even
 those, like me, not interested in professional sports will like it and learn from it.

 You feel the joy of the orphans from Tacoma, Wa., crowded around baseball star Babe Ruth when confronted
 by a life-size photo of his visit to them in 1927. And you can see the history of the civil rights movement
 made human in the tales of Baltimore’s Black Sox and Elite Giants.

 The bond proceeds will be used to create a permanent exhibit on Maryland’s Olympians, according to Mike
 Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum, which operates Sports Legends. That sounds like a
 great idea.


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www.dcexaminer.com >> Marta Mossburg                                                                                                            3/6/09 5:28 PM



 But should we pay for it? And how much more will we shell out in the future? It does not have a track record
 of independence. Baltimore City taxpayers gave the museum $125,000 in 2007 before state taxpayers
 contributed another $600,000. Last year the state forgave its $444,000 in unpaid rent to the Maryland Stadium
 Authority and trimmed its rent to $10,000 per month from $32,000.

 Gibbons said, “despite the times, we need to bring good exhibits and programs to the public.” And he pointed
 to the psychological value of baseball during the Great Depression as an elixir for national woes.

 Those items may be true, but how does it then follow that taxpayers should support the museum? That’s like
 saying I really need to touch up my roots so that I look good in a job interview, therefore state taxpayers
 should pay my salon bill.

 And directing taxpayer dollars to nonprofits has larger implications than just adding to our debt. It also turns a
 significant portion of civil society into just another wing of the government and gives those in power the
 ability to pick winners and losers in that arena.

 That is no more right in business than it is for nonprofits in this nation of supposed equal opportunity for all.
 And with President Barack Obama’s proposal to change the tax code to make it less worthwhile to donate
 money, government could become a bigger and bigger benefactor to nonprofits. While that may benefit
 Democrats and their causes in the short-term, it could devastate charities dependent on government largesse
 when the parties exchange places.

 Besides, it’s hard to believe that Sports Legends can’t get a few more Orioles or Ravens to dive into their
 professional sports’ pockets to find $200,000 or ask Olympian Michael Phelps -- flush with promotional cash
 -- to support a museum that highlights their accomplishments.

 It’s also hard to believe that supporters of the Russian cultural center can’t get the Russian Embassy or one of
 that country’s many oligarchs living in this country to donate what is pocket change to them.

 Legislators should end the practice of “donating” taxpayer money to charity and let nonprofits rise and fall by
 their own ability. That means cancelling all bond bills directed toward nonprofits and allowing Marylanders to
 keep more of their money – to donate, or not, to the causes of their choice.

 Washington Examiner columnist Marta H. Mossburg lives in Baltimore.



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