News Story

Professor: Forced Charity Isn’t Charity — Even For Special Olympics

Hillsdale’s Gary Wolfram says it’s unjust for government to redistribute income from regular people to charities

Forced charity is not charity, even when it’s done by the federal government. That’s the view of a Hillsdale College economics professor weighing in on a Trump administration decision (since rescinded) to cut federal payments to the nonprofit governing body of Special Olympics.

Gary Wolfram, who is also a member of the Board of Scholars at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the funding cut was justified by the organization’s ability to raise millions of dollars each year.

“I believe Betsy DeVos, who has given a fortune to charities, was correct in saying the federal government should not be acting as a charity organization,” Wolfram wrote in an email.

“However,” he continued, “from a political perspective she should have realized that the [mainstream media] would appeal to what [Frederic Bastiat] had written about, that is, appeal to those people who have lost their sense of what is just and unjust.”

Wolfram added: “I suspect that few Americans would recognize that taking from some folks through taxes to give to the Special Olympics is not charity. Nor has our public school system taught people about how charity fulfilled the needs of the indigent prior to the New Deal and the Great Society.”

In March, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Trump administration had chosen not to go forward with a $17.6 million grant for Special Olympics activities and its governing body. After DeVos made the announcement, President Donald Trump decided to reverse the decision.

The cut was part of an effort to reduce Department of Education spending by around 10 percent, or $7 billion. Reportedly, previous Trump administration efforts to end federal grants to the Special Olympics organization did not make it into the final budget recommendations.

“In one sense, the suggested cuts to Special Olympics are meaningless,” said Antony Davies, an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. “Trying to reduce the deficit by cutting Special Olympics is like trying to fight a forest fire by spitting at it. In another sense, it’s the right thing to do. The reason we have an unsustainable federal debt is because the federal government long ago broke through its constitutional constraints. The Constitution lists about a dozen things the federal government is authorized to do. Special Olympics isn’t on the list. Also not on the list are subsidies to oil companies, loans to college students, Green New Deals, Social Security, and almost everything else the government currently does or talks about doing.”

Democrats took to social media to chastise DeVos for announcing the cut. DeVos defended the decision in congressional testimony twice in March, arguing that in the face of budget pressures, difficult decisions had to be made.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Education Department’s budget, joined in the criticism. “Our Department of Education appropriations bill will not cut funding for the program,” Blunt said in a statement, which added that he is a longtime supporter of Special Olympics and its programs.

According to an independent financial audit reviewing the finances of Special Olympics and its affiliates, federal dollars account for about 10.3 percent of the organization’s funding. The vast majority of its annual revenue comes from voluntary contributions by private citizens, organizations and other nonprofits.

Some people are suggesting that the controversy may lead to a financial windfall for Special Olympics. Lawmakers are interested in increasing the overall grant and donations may skyrocket, Politico notes.

DeVos has previously donated part of her salary to Special Olympics. She is on record saying that she personally supports the mission of the organization.