America’s parasitical oligarchs are masters of public relations. One of their favorite tactics is to masquerade as defenders of the common folk while neatly arranging things behind the scenes so that they can continue to plunder unimpeded. Perhaps nowhere is this sleight of hand displayed so artfully as it is at a particular high-profile charity with the nerve to bill itself as itself as “New York's largest poverty-fighting organization.”
British novelist Anthony Trollope once wrote, “I have sometimes thought that there is no being so venomous, so bloodthirsty as a professed philanthropist.”
Meet the benevolent patrons of the Robin Hood Foundation.
Robin Hood in Reverse
The Robin Hood Foundation, named for that green-jerkined hero of redistribution who stole from the rich to give to the poor, is run, ironically, by some of the most rapacious capitalists the country has ever produced — men who make robber barons of previous generations look like small-time crooks. Founded by hedge fund mogul Paul Tudor Jones, the foundation boasts 19 billionaires on its leadership boards and committees, the likes of which include this sample of American plutocracy:
-Hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, who, when he is not being probed for insider trading (his company, SAC Capital Advisors, pled guilty to securities and wire fraud) is busy throwing parties for himself worthy of a Roman emperor at his Hamptons palace and bragging about his $700 million art collection. He suspends a 13-foot shark in formaldehyde from the ceiling his office, perhaps as an avatar of his business practices.
-Billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who threatened to turn off the charity donations if Pope Francis dared to continue criticizing capitalism and inequality, and also likened the plight of the wealthy in America to Nazi Germany. The GOP megadonor doesn’t care for bank regulation and it’s no surprise that he is the main booster for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential bid, as his plan to shred Social Security is a fond wish of the tycoon’s.
- Hedge fund billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller, funder of right-wing causes who dedicates himself to spreading deficit hysteria and ginning up generational warfare on college campuses by trying to convince young people that they are being robbed by seniors using Social Security and Medicare. A long-time anti-tax crusader and supporter of such anti-labor enthusiasts as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Druckenmiller warned President Obama that any attempt to tax the rich to pay for social services for the poor would be futile.
By occupation (the more useless and parasitical the better), it comes as no surprise that 12 of the 19 men in leadership positions at the Robin Hood Foundation happen to be hedge fund managers. A group called Hedge Clippers, supported by a coalition of labor unions and community groups and devoted to exposing how billionaires scheme to inflate their wealth and influence, has pointed out in a scathing report that the Robin Hood Foundation has close ties to an organization called the Managed Funds Association (MFA) that — shocker! —lobbies tirelessly for unjustified tax breaks for hedgies. Paul Tudor Jones’s top deputy, John Torell, chairs the MFA, and 31 members of Robin Hood’s governing board and leadership committees are executives at firms that belong to the highest membership levels of the organization.
The MFA was relatively small until 2007, when Congress started eyeing the “carried interest” tax loophole. Then it brought out the heavy artillery to protect elites from paying their fair share. The carried interest loophole is the MFA’s top priority.
The King of Scams
The carried interest loophole, as economist Dean Baker put it, is likely the worst of all the “sneaky and squirrelly ways that the rich use to escape their tax liability.” It goes down like this: Hedge fund managers brazenly claim they deserve to pay a special low tax rate on the money they earn overseeing the funds they manage because, um, it’s not guaranteed. So they pay 20 percent instead of the 39.6 percent they would pay if the money were taxed as ordinary income. They get very rich from this windfall, just ask Mitt Romney. But you know what? Lots of workers have no guarantee about the money they’ll earn, from people selling cars to the guy who just served you a burger. Do they get a special tax rate? No, they don’t. They pay full freight. In fact, almost nobody’s income is guaranteed. You could get a pay cut tomorrow. Or a pink slip. Do you still pay regular income tax? Yep, you do.
This unfair tax break basically allows hedge fund managers to screw their fellow Americans out of money that could do things the illustrious patrons of the Robin Hood Foundation claim are so dear to their hearts, like building schools and feeding the poor. According to a Congressional Research Service cited in the Hedge Clippers report, closing the carried interest loophole would generate $17 billion a year. How many hungry children in New York City could that feed? All of them?
The loophole makes absolutely no economic or social sense, it’s just a way for the rich to say, hey, we’re powerful enough to lobby for this insanity, so you little people just go ahead and pay for that airport where our private jets are about to land and that road where our Porsches and limos cruise. It’s a middle finger held up to every hard-working person in America. Dirt kicked in the face of the poor.
It’s a driver of inequality and encourages risky speculation on Wall Street. Hillary Clinton, perhaps hoping to ward off the threat of Bernie Sanders, has been making noise about closing the carried interest loophole, which many a politician has made before. Given the cultural focus on inequality and the egregiousness of the policy, it may just be vulnerable. Let’s hope so.
Den of Thieves
The mission statement of the Robin Hood Foundation brays about all the funding it provides for school programs, generating “meaningful results for families in New York's poorest neighborhoods.” Soup kitchens! Homeless shelters! Job training! The tuxedoed tycoons throw money at all these causes “to give New York’s neediest citizens the tools they need to build better lives.”
How far does this largesse actually go toward ameliorating New York’s poverty problem? Unsurprisingly, not very far at all. In fact, as Hedge Clippers points out, the poverty rate in the city has grown over the course of the Robin Hood Foundation’s history, from 20 percent in 1990 to 21.2 percent in 2012.
Guess what’s also grown? The bank accounts of 19 billionaires on the Robin Hood Foundation’s boards, which have ballooned 93 percent since 2008.
Hedge Clippers applied a delicious tactic to expose the hypocrisy at the heart of the Robin Hood Foundation with stark mathematical precision— they used the organizations own metrics as an analytical tool. The foundation is famed for using grantee evaluations, cost-benefit analyses, and performance measures, including a metrics system freakishly named “relentless monetization.” So the Clippers applied these methods to the foundation’s hedge fund backers themselves, systematically exposing the degree to which they increase inequality and poverty.
How bad it is? A chilling ratio summarizes just how bad— 44:1. That is to say, for every dollar the Robin Hood Foundation hedge fund managers studied give to the organization’s antipoverty efforts, they soak up $44 from the public in the form of tax avoidance and anti-tax advocacy. The authors of the report believe that to be a conservative estimate.
Take the case of Steve Cohen, he of the shark in formaldehyde, and board member emeritus of the Robin Hood Foundation.
The tally of his recent donations to the foundation: $4,850,000.
The estimated amount he ripped off the public in 2014 by paying special low tax rates: $1,300,000,000.
Quite a difference.
When they aren’t advocating tax swindles, members of the Robin Hood Foundation put in plenty of time fighting fair wages, trying to shred the social safety net, and killing worker protections through their associations with organizations like the Manhattan Institute, the Partnership for New York City (the voice of big business in NYC and a big foe of paid sick leave), and Fix the Debt (a notorious group devoted to crushing Social Security and Medicare).
When you think about it, it looks as if the Robin Hood Foundation members are actively trying to strip the public and strangle working people to such a degree that poverty and nickels thrown by billionaires will be all that’s left of America. The rest of us will all be living in Sherwood Forest.
The Robin Hood Foundation’s new motto: Increasing poverty is our business.