The Dilemma for Recipients of Public Funds

Something is bothering you, dear, what is it?

No big deal. Well, yes, I guess it is. I got invited to a fund raiser today for Councilman Smith’s reelection?

Why does that bother you, although you were never invited before this election season?

It’s a dilemma for me. Remember when he was on the Community Development Corporation Board? He was very nice to me when I approached the Board for $20,000 in funds for my non-profit organization. It was Smith who encouraged me to apply when we were at the same table at a Chamber luncheon a month earlier. He was very enthusiastic and actuall rallied the cause on my behalf with the other Board members. The vote was unanimous. I later thanked him for taking the lead, championing my request.

So, what is wrong with that? Your non-profit serves the community well.

There’s a couple of problems that bother my conscious. The first is that if I had a $1,000 to give, I should be contributing to my non-profit. They could use the funds.

What is the second problem?

Well, I feel obligated to make a contribution. In a way, I owe him. There is no obligation for the amount to be $1,000. I could contribute less. But then I would feel ungrateful and probably be viewed by him as unappreciative. It was a large amount of taxpayer money I received.

And weren’t you thinking of approaching the CDC Board again this year for a comparable amount?

Yes, that adds to my dilemma.

I can see why. But he is not on the CDC Board any longer. Doesn’t that let you off the hook?

Not really. The CDC Board members are appointed by the City Council. In fact, Councilman Smith is one of the two Council Liaisons to the CDC Board. He would be there in the meeting if I asked for more money.

Gee. This IS a dilemma you have been put in. It just eases its way into the equation, doesn’t it? Is there no solution?

I see one solution, but it would take an action on the City Council’s part. And that is not likely to happen. Four of the seven council members were formerly on the CDC Board.

Tell me how this dilemma could be solved.

There are several ways, but the most effective way would be for the Council to require a recipient of any city funds to be disallowed from ever contributing money to a council candidate or council member.

My goodness. That would be a profound step of integrity on the City Council’s part. And that would remove the dilemma of dozens or maybe even hundreds of recipients from feeling an obligation to contribute, right?

Almost. Any time money is being doled out, it is impossible for Board or Council members to prevent building a potential political constituency. That is why all boards especially Money Boards are a natural springboard to running for City Council.

But doesn’t that happen all the time, like when the Council responds to youth athletic teams build or improve ball fields?

Yes, to some degree. It is natural to try to help an incumbent garner votes if they have done something for you. That is generally why it is so hard for an outsider to beat an incumbent. Nobody is doing anything wrong, it is just hard not to return a favor or to say thanks when you get public money or projects built from public money.

Wow! This is a big issue. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. And is probably the reason former council and board members say they went from being highly popular to a nobody the day they left office. But what are you going to do about your invitation to Councilman Smith’s fund raiser.

I’m going. And I will make a contribution. I feel obligated to do so. However, I will be changing my mind on a related issue.

What’s that?

I am not going to be going to the CDC this year for a continuation of the funding for my non-profit.

I fully understand. A clear conscious is not worth it.



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