One Percent for Culture Campaign

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New York City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer can lead by example by supporting his “One Percent for Culture Campaign.” He could donate 1% of his annual salary to his favorite cultural organization. He could also ask the other fellow members of the New York City Council, along with many staff members who all earn $100,000 or more to do the same. His call for programming 1% of the annual municipal budget would cost taxpayers $700 million dollars assuming the upcoming July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014 budget comes in at $70 billion dollars. This sounds great before one looks at the cost. Many would argue with a pending multi-billion dollar shortfall that expenditures supporting police, fire, sanitation, education, health, housing and transportation are higher priorities.

Why is Councilmember Van Bramer silent concerning the August 2011 investigation by Governor Cuomo into the exorbitant salaries of chief executives at some of the same so-called private non-profit cultural organizations he supports. Before shedding tears for leaders of private non-profit institutions when they protest potential budget cuts from the city, state or federal governments, check out their respective organization finances, especially salaries to their executive management team. Too many executives of non-profit cultural institutions earn a base salary of several hundred thousand dollars. Some even earn over one million per year!

This is supplemented by bonuses, generous health plans, subsidized housing and retirement packages equivalent to or greater than the president, governor, mayor, any public official, many private sector corporate executives earn or ordinary citizens.

In many cases, these institutions pay excessive funds to public relation firms and lobbyists hired to go after grants from city, state and federal governments. Many of these grants are hidden under member items when annual budgets are adopted by New York City, New York State and Washington. Others attempt convincing public officials to support earmarking cash for their institutions.

Professional fund raising firms end up taking a greater percentage of donations actually meant for the nonprofit cultural institutions. (Check with the state Attorney General Schneiderman’s office for their list of registered charities before you respond to any solicitation.) See what percentage of your contribution actually goes to your favorite charity versus overhead costs for fundraising. In many cases, the percentage is shocking.

In these lean times executives of non-profit cultural organizations can set an example for others. They could take a pay cut and donate some of the excessive compensation or consider giving up some perks to help their institutions bottom line. Most New Yorkers do not make $100,000 per year. There are thousands of executives and employees of private non profit cultural organizations who make $100,000 or more. Perhaps they could join Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and also donate 1% of their salaries.

How many newspaper articles have we read concerning corruption in the relationship between elected officials and cultural institutions? Every year, ordinary Americans, business, unions and foundations combine to donate several hundred billion dollars to tens of thousands of cultural institutions.

Why do elected officials see the need to use tax revenues to fund their own donations to cultural institutions? These are known as member items and in too many cases have in the past really been pork barrel projects.

Why can’t they make their own personal direct charitable donations to the cultural institutions of their choice? Just how much cash do elected officials personally donate to charities each year out of their own salaries? Many could dip into excessive surplus campaign funds to make a donation. They could also host a fundraiser asking some of their regular campaign contributors to support cultural institutions.

In addition to financial contributions, millions of Americans also donate time each week to perform volunteer work at their favorite cultural institution. How many public officials do the same?

Too many members view the funding of member item pork barrel projects as a path to grease the wheels of reelection or run for higher public office. Like a monkey on their back, they appear to be addicted to this spending.

The quid pro quo between those seeking funding and members of the New York City Council, New York State Legislature and Congress is common knowledge. This sometimes includes campaign contributions from the recipients senior management, hiring of public officials family, relatives or friends along with political clubhouse colleagues by the recipients, invitations to ribbon cutting ceremonies, prominent promotions in recipient newsletters, along with honoring the elected official at the organization’s annual fundraising dinner etc. in exchange for receipt of the funding.

Talk is cheap, but individual voluntary actions such as donating money or time rather than using taxpayer funds.