Lucas O’Connor over at Two Cathedrals has raised some interesting questions about the implications of private donors exerting influence over public space and services.
His post begins:
A new front opened last night in the saga of Balboa Park, with the Old Globe’s Executive Producer emailing the theater’s email list with a pitch for the Plaza de Panama Committee’s recommendations for park redesign and lobbying for theater patrons to contact their city councilmember. It reignites debate over Balboa Park’s future and sparks new ethical and pragmatic questions about the relationship between money and political lobbying efforts.
For starters, let’s be clear about what the Plaza de Panama Committee is. It’s chaired by Irwin Jacobs, a major Old Globe backer who pulled back his $33 million proposal to privately redesign the park after a city council vote rebuked the plan. The PdP Committee Board of Directors also includes Donald Cohn, the chairman of the board at The Old Globe and a major financial backer who spearheaded the Old Globe’s new Karen and Donald Cohn Education Center. In other words, the Executive Producer of the Old Globe is pitching for a plan put forth by some of his most vital financial backers, including the Chairman of the Old Globe Board of Directors . . .
Is The Old Globe wrong for weighing in on this? Not necessarily. Whether it steps over the ethical line is a judgment call, and receiving tax dollars isn’t an automatic disqualifier from political participation. But this does highlight the fundamental conflict in relying on private philanthropy to keep the city running. Without an effective, independent government to mediate on these issues, public/private funding models for basic civic goods are doomed from the start. Where does it end?
What do Rostrafarians think about this issue? Is philanthropy to government vulnerable to being abused to exert undue control over public property? And if so, how can this be handled?
Readers, I ask you to go over to Two Cathedrals and read Lucas’ entire article and share your perspectives.
(DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times).