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October 16, 2017; Star Tribune

Yesterday, NPQ ran a story by Jim Schaffer on the uses of charity to provide a cloak for depravity and, of course, such situations have been very much in the news lately.

Over the past few weeks, charities and politicians all across the United States were reviewing their donor logs and figuring out what to do with Weinstein donations. It was clear to most that they had to make them go away to cut any impression of a continued association, but were they to be returned to Weinstein, who might use them in his own defense, or…what?

Jennifer Brooks of the Star Tribune points out that the Weinstein case is hardly the first to have elicited widespread attempts to return or regift donations from donors whose reputations might tarnish the image of a nonprofit or campaign. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that candidates and their committees returned $100 million worth of donations in the last election cycle, albeit for various reasons. As Brooks writes,

Republicans returned or donated thousands of dollars’ worth of contributions from white supremacist Earl Holt III after his teachings were linked to the 2015 Charleston church shooting. The same year, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar returned a $10,000 donation from New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez after he was indicted on corruption charges.

The Minnesota GOP, the Minnesota DFL, and politicians from both parties had to give back half a million dollars in political contributions from convicted fraudster Tom Petters and his associates as courts worked to recover the fortunes skimmed away by his Ponzi scheme.

Al Franken, who has just divested himself of Weinstein money, found himself in a similar situation earlier this year when he reimbursed $41,000 over to the US Treasury “to offset campaign contributions from a Boston law firm accused of improperly reimbursing staffers who made political donations.” In the case of the Weinstein donation, Franken sent the $20,000 received by his campaign and political action committee along to support the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.

As Brooks writes, “There’s no law requiring a campaign to return a contribution from someone like Weinstein, who now stands accused of harassing, molesting, bullying and belittling women for decades in Hollywood. But the political consequences for campaigns that don’t cut ties with a donor who might be a crook or a sexual predator or a white supremacist can be harsher than anything the law could dish out.”

Some groups and politicians just returned the money, among them USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, which had accepted a $5 million endowment meant to serve female filmmakers. Their return of the money was probably prompted in part by a student’s change.org petition, an excerpt of which reads:

I’m done with respectable institutions readmitting monsters into honorable life. USC tells us to take back the night, and they say that “it’s on us.” That’s easy to say when railing against some vague notion of “rape culture” or a dishonest caricature of Greek life. When confronted with Hollywood royalty and a political ally, that’s a lot harder. Let’s demand that they show us how much they mean it.

But many, understanding that to keep the money Weinstein gave could potentially bring a blight upon their houses, are choosing to pass the money along rather than give it back or keep it.

There does seem to be a theme to the regifts of Weinstein donations. The Democratic National Committee has pledged to donate the $30,000 in Weinstein donations to groups that encourage women to run for public office. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pledged the $23,000 it received to Futures Without Violence. Sen. Elizabeth Warren donated to a Boston shelter for battered women; Sen. Kristen Gillibrand donated to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). This regifting appears to be a laundering of the money in question in a good way—one that may save both the reputation and soul of the nonprofit or campaign.

Rutgers University, on the other hand, says that it will not return a $100,000 donation from the H. Weinstein Family Foundation to a campaign to raise $3 million for the Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies, which “addresses the intersection of feminist studies and media culture.”—Ruth McCambridge