Patriotic Philanthropy? Financing the State with Gifts to Government
52 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2017 Last revised: 4 Apr 2017
Date Written: March 7, 2017
Federal and state law prohibit government officials from accepting gifts or “emoluments” from outside sources. The purpose of gift bans, like restrictions on more explicit forms of bribery, is to protect the integrity of political processes and to ensure that decisions about public policy are made in the public interest — not to advance a private agenda. Similar considerations animate regulations on campaign funding and lobbying. Yet private entities remain free to offer gifts to government itself, to foot the bill for particular public projects they would like to see government pursue. Such gifts — dubbed “patriotic philanthropy” by one prominent donor — raise fundamental questions about the private role in public policymaking, questions that are central to debates over campaign finance, private philanthropy, and the privatization of government functions. Nevertheless, they have received virtually no attention in the legal literature. This Article offers a positive and normative account of gifts to government. Although we do not question the enormous good that patriotic philanthropy can do, we argue that gifts raise significant concerns about democratic process, equality, and state capacity.
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