Looking Closely at Conflicts of Interest

This month, Ronan Farrow published an excellent piece on The New Yorker’s site, describing how Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) accepted financial contributions from Jeffrey Epstein after it was clear they shouldn’t have been associating with him.

Some people’s immediate reaction may be to ask, “What’s the problem?  They need the money, and this doesn’t mean they were abetting his crimes.”

There is a problem, though, especially when it isn’t just sincere generosity.  Some charities receive small donations from average people with no implied quid pro quo agreement, and those charities might innocently stay ignorant of donors’ backgrounds with no problems.  However, when the donation is large — especially if it funds research — there are sticking points.  Donors should be vetted carefully, and when necessary the money should be returned.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want a large corporation funding research that predictably concludes the corporation isn’t harming the environment (it happens, though, so be on the lookout).  I don’t recall which Carl Hiaasen novel referred to the scientists involved in those shams as “biostitutes.”

There are also potential problems for any nonprofit when a large donor is allowed to enter restricted areas of a building.  If that person is a sex offender, there is a real threat to other people on site.

No institution should have been accepting money from Jeffrey Epstein after they became aware of his sexual misconduct.

Please click the two links below to read enlightened pieces which describe the far-reaching implications of accepting dirty money.  One link goes to Ronan Farrow’s article, and the other goes to a Slate post by Justin Peters.



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