By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
What if I told you that a couple of billionaire brothers got together to make a $1.5 million gift to Florida State University to promote the study of free-market economics? Given the state of our economy and the economic illiteracy by many in our society, I would suggest that this is a very welcome bequest. However, there are some that question this gift and the freedom of the philanthropists behind it.The “problem” for them is that the gift was given by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. And what else does the Koch Foundation fund? Well, the tea parties of course! (No, not really) However, the Koch Foundation does give to many free-market oriented causes.Excuse me, but is this a crime? Do donors not have the freedom to give to causes they support?As the Director of Development at JMI, I am responsible for overseeing much of our fundraising efforts including grants from a wide array of private foundations. Anyone that has worked in this type of position knows that there is usually a pretty rigorous process to receive funds. Foundations don’t just go around handing out money. It’s usually the responsibility of non-profit organizations and academic institutions to first establish contact and build relationships with foundation directors, as well as find a commonality on how our projects fit the types of programs they want to support. I imagine this is what happened when the Koch Foundation decided to give a very generous grant to FSU.Before they received any funding from the Koch Foundation, FSU was already recognized as having one of the top free-market economics departments in the country. However, ask a free-market economist at FSU if they think free-market ideas dominate the department, and I bet they don’t think so. Academia these days is dominated by Keynesian economists and progressives of all sorts. My guess is that the Koch Foundation saw some great things happening in the FSU economics department and felt that it was a good place to make an investment, to foster an alternative space that doesn’t exist on most college campuses. They have every right to do so.The next onus is on FSU. Kris Hundley of the St. Pete Times claims that the Koch Foundation has exerted a right to “interfere in faculty hiring at a public funded university.” Dave Weigel over at Slate says that Hundley’s article “serves up some liberal nightmare fuel today.” I’d mostly agree with Weigel’s assessment here. It’s the latest scare tactic by the left: free-market ideas are only on the rise because of a few wealthy right-wingers.FSU Professor of Economics and JMI Senior Fellow Randall Holcombe has told me that he thinks “it’s good for the St. Pete Times to do investigative journalism, and I also think the issue of outside donors controlling hiring and curriculum decisions is an important one. So, I don’t object to them pursuing this story and trying to air the facts. However, they know the issue, but not the facts, and the fact is that the outside funders have not interfered with our hiring, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to get a few good people thanks to their money — not only faculty, but graduate students too. We’ve sent [the Koch Foundation] information on the people we wanted to hire in those positions, and they approved every hire. They didn’t turn down anyone.”Public universities today raise billions of dollars in private donations. It seems to me a little silly (and politically biased) for the St. Pete Times to point simply to the Koch Foundation funding because of the field of study it supports. I’d encourage citizen journalists (and the St. Pete Times) to open up the public universities’ books to complete transparency and see where every private (and public) dollar is coming from. How much funding do academic departments and student groups receive from funders ranging from George Soros to quasi-terrorist organizations? (Just ask David Horowitz, he’s been on this case for years, with little sympathy from the St. Pete Times). Selective transparency is not credible journalism.And back to the Koch brothers for a moment. David Koch recently gave a donation of $100 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) It wasn’t to study free-market economics. It was to unload some of the wealth he has generated throughout his lifetime to fund a cancer research center. However, there are strings attached to that funding as well. I believe M.I.T. has to hire qualified medical researchers and appropriate staff to carry out this noble cause. But it’s a good thing M.I.T. is a private university. Otherwise, Kris Hundley and the St. Pete Times might be questioning that gift as well.