The growing chorus about the evils of government can be very confusing: If rich people use their money to support government programs, is that a good thing because it isn’t government money or a bad thing because it reinforces government policies? For example, when John and Leigh Middleton, who made $2.9 billion from cigars, donated $30 million to help Philadelphia’s homeless, were they addressing a vital human need or promoting dependency. They gave their money to Project HOME (Housing. Opportunities. Medical. Education), an organization run by a nun, whose mantra – “None of us are home until all of us are home” – has that old community-organizing ring, and indeed, HOME works aggressively “to impact public policies, educate elected officials, maximize resources for housing and services, and advocate for human and civil rights for persons who are poor, homeless, and/or disabled.” It seeks to improve public welfare not replace it.
Likewise, should people be able to use their private wealth to effect public policy? Take Roxanne Quimby, who made a fortune in lip balm (Burt's Bees) and has spent most of it buying large chunks of land – over 100,000 acres – in Maine’s north woods. She wants to create a national park, an idea that has put property-rights advocates in a quandary. The Quimbys “can do whatever they want with that land,” said the leader of a group opposing the national park. “It’s their land.” Well, everything except give the federal government “a toehold in the northern Maine woods.” That would ruin the neighborhood.