LAST week federal authorities disclosed that four cancer charities had bilked tens of millions of dollars from donors. Questions continue to surface about the lack of transparency at the Clinton Foundation. Philanthropy, we’re learning, is a world with too much secrecy and too little oversight. Despite its increasing role in American society, from education to the arts to the media, perhaps no sector is less accountable to outsiders.
The charitable sector is a bit like the Wild West — by design. Foundations have long been granted expansive freedom, on the view that the diversity of America’s civil society is one of the country’s signature strengths, as Alexis de Tocqueville famously said, and that government shouldn’t mess with this magic. Both political parties have been content to impose a minimum of rules on philanthropy.