Whether they are giving large gifts to political parties, or funding cutting edge medical facilities and global health initiatives, America’s elite are wielding their wealth and influence around the nation and across the globe. Stanford professor Rob Reich says we must start seeing these activities for what they are. “Big philanthropy is an exercise of power,” he tells us. “And in a democracy, power deserves scrutiny not just gratitude.”

Reich is faculty co-director of Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and says it has become very difficult to trace the contributions of America’s largest donors. “The activity of philanthropists or political donors requires very low transparency,” he says. “And the donors are for the most part wholly unaccountable to the public.”

In this podcast, Reich discusses how philanthropy benefits billionaires through tax deductions, how their donations give them power, and why it’s important to challenge that power. “It’s like being a skunk in the room,” he says about his role as a critic of charitable giving. “Always raising a big stink about things that people would otherwise want to celebrate.”

Additional Resources:

Tiny Spark interview with Megan Tompkins-Stange, author of Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform and the Politics of Influence

Tiny Spark interview with David Callahan, author of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.

Tiny Spark interview with Ray Madoff, Why Do Billions of Charitable Dollars Sit in Banks?

What Are Foundations For? By Reich

Atlantic article asks Is Philanthropy Bad For Democracy?

David Fahrenthold’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into President Trump’s charitable giving

Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Institutions, Values Edited by Reich

Reich on Twitter

Featured Image: Rob Reich