"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents...." James Madison, father of the United States Constitution, made this statement with the firm belief that our republic needed checks and balances to limit the influence of special interests, even the special interests of benevolence.
Was he speaking of government grants to life saving fire halls? Probably not. It was about tax funds expended for the designs of special interests.
The problem is that guilt is often associated with "benevolence" and who wants to criticize and risk being called cold hearted or stingy? However, taxes are not collected for discretionary purposes. Most still believe that the agreement between the citizens and the government is to provide protection, promote commerce, educate the population, and to provide important protection from sanitary and public health threats.
Largely, we do have checks and balances. However, when it comes to subjective appropriations like many the Governor is proposing in his supplemental budget, gifts the Tennessee Center for Policy Research's report calls “goodies and giveaways,” we all realize that few checks and balances are employed. We may rationalize such gifts but reports reveal that they are often to organizations directed by political campaign contributors.
If one disregards guilt and asks the tough questions that are asked for any other expenditure of public funds, one should ask where is the objective design, list of goals, application and determination process, assurance of nondiscrimination, and fair notice of opportunity for all who may wish to benefit from such expenditures of public funds? In addition, how will accountability and efficiency be determined for the fruits of the taxpayer’s labor?
What about purpose? Do the grants strictly meet the purpose for which government is intended or are they just something nice to do? Most could be content to do nice things with other people’s money all day long; especially if it created endearment.
It is sad that such expenditures are exactly enough so that the taxpayers cannot enjoy a decrease in their own taxes to spend their own funds as they see fit.
Certainly the children of a single mother making $27,000 per year might enjoy a publicly supported history project, if, and to whatever extent, they actually spend time reviewing it. But does she really have the latitude in her budget for us to spend money on such items? Does not the “family unit,” and ensuring its strength, aid society in far greater ways and much more permanently? Shouldn't other people, private people with ability, be supporting such projects?
In truth, the government’s contribution to non-profit organizations is their tax exempt status. Because their mission is to perform a ‘public good’ non-profits are granted the privilege and benefit of not having to pay taxes on purchases, property and income. However, in return, they must prove their utility through reporting.
The fact is too many conflicts abound to spend public funds in such a manner. A politician could buy political endearment and payback for past and future support. Or an elected official may serve on the board of a recipient organization and thereby have a direct hand in spending the taxpayer’s funds. The ability to make such appropriations is not simply a right, or entitlement, of being elected.
James Madison was incredibly intelligent; enough to realize that there are no limits to the provision of benevolence when a huge treasury, guilt and political gain tango with each other.