Secular Coalition for America and Clinton Foundation

 

The mission of the Secular Coalition for America, of which I’m founder and president, is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government. To help fulfill our mission, we have an excellent staff, including lobbyists in Washington. We hope to form 50 state secular coalitions and promote our secular positions widely. As with all non-profits (and non-prophets), the Secular Coalition relies on generous donations from those who support our mission.

Does the Secular Coalition turn down contributions? Yes, but hardly ever. If someone should offer the Secular Coalition money to feed starving children or to end the war on drugs, we would agree with the sentiment and suggest the donor contribute instead to one of our excellent member organizations that focuses on those issues. As president of a relatively small but growing organization, I worry about mission creep. 

Now if Pat Robertson or a Saudi sheik offered to donate a million dollars to the Secular Coalition, I would happily accept as long as we could use the money to promote our mission (no such donations, yet). Donald Trump, if you are listening, we would like a major contribution so we, too, can help build a wall that will make America great again—Thomas Jefferson’s wall to separate church and state.

So what does the Secular Coalition have to do with the Clinton Foundation, which also does good work while needing to avoid potential conflicts of interest? Like all analogies, the one I’m about to make regarding the two organizations has its flaws, but also some similarities.

The good news is that there is no need to investigate the Secular Coalition; the bad news is it does not have nearly the resources of the Clinton Foundation. The rules are also very different for an organization headed by a former U.S. president and perhaps the next president, with their international influence and potential conflicts of interest. However, my focus in both cases falls on what the donor dollars accomplish.

While the Secular Coalition for America appreciates all donors, the “secular angels” ($10,000 or more) usually have greater access than supporters who contribute $100. We are more likely to search out and take our angels to dinner when we are in their town. They are more likely to influence our projects. For instance, if a donor were to offer us money to advertise in major media, we would thankfully accept the generous contribution to do something we can’t now afford to do. On the other hand, we would not accept money to promote a donor’s car dealership.

When it comes to the Clinton Foundation, I’m more interested in whether donors have influenced public policy, and, if so, how. Major donors to legislators have more access to present their interests. And as we know, problems arise when a legislator supports an issue solely to please a donor even though the legislator realizes it might harm other Americans.

I’ve written here why I think, next to ISIS, Saudi Arabia is the most repressive regime in the Middle East. On the other hand, I would welcome that country’s no-strings-attached contribution to the Clinton Foundation or any other foundation to eradicate AIDS. I would, of course, want to verify as carefully as possible that the contribution came without strings. So the bottom line for me is not just who the contributor is, but also what the recipient does for the contributor.

Like the Clinton Foundation, the Secular Coalition for America takes contributions from those outside America. One of my favorite secular angels is Richard Dawkins, a Brit, who is appalled by how politicians in a secular country like America use their religious beliefs to deny equal rights to atheists, women, the LGBTQ community, and those who behave or believe differently. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, is shocked that about half our country rejects evolution, an attitude unheard of in other countries that are not theocracies. His and other contributions help the Secular Coalition promote science-based decisions and evidence-based positions for American politicians with worldwide influence. I can only wish that the Clinton Foundation, or another with similar influence and resources, would set its sights on promoting scientific thinking as the benchmark for policy making in both this country and Saudi Arabia.

 

 

 

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