In light of Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens' federal indictment last week, many of his former political allies have rushed to donate any recent contributions they received from Stevens or his political action committee to charity.
Texas' own Sen. John Cornyn, who according to OpenSecrets.org received $15,000 from Stevens in the last election cycle, has vowed to pass on $10,000 of the contribution to charity. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, announced Wednesday that he would also give $10,000 to the Wayside Christian Mission, the same organization that reaped the benefits when the senator tried to soothe his conscience - and perhaps more importantly, that of his constituents - after news of the Jack Abramoff scandal broke. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, a member of the Senate's ethics committee, was feeling especially philanthropic following the charges brought against Stevens and announced he would give more than $19,000, an amount that sums gifts given from as far back as 2001, to several Kansas charities. Like bidders at an auction, these senators seem bent on outperforming others in the race to distance themselves from the disgraced senator to a point of near hysteria.
The notion that the best way to absolve your crime of association with the morally dubious is cutting a check to your neighborhood charitable organization is specious at best. Would forfeiting the allegedly "tainted" money to charities allow it to become a positive force in the world and provide for the disadvantaged? More than likely. But what we fail to see is how helping the poor inner-city youth of Kansas or Kentucky (or whatever specific crusade the senator's charities espouse) should come as a result of a Stevens' violation of the oaths of his office. Simply dumping money on the Red Cross' doorstep does nothing to alleviate the burdens that Stevens has put on society, and more specifically, tax-paying individuals.
The tens of thousands of dollars that have been sent indiscriminately to charities by guilt-ridden senators should fund the cost of Stevens' investigation and subsequent trial. This million-dollar expense is the primary burden that Stevens has passed on to Americans and is the only valid, logical place to reallocate any tainted funds other senators wish to purge themselves of. Had the senator directly robbed a charity, then the charitable actions we are seeing would have been more appropriate. However, Stevens' crimes - at least the ones that we currently know of - were only at the financial expense of those who fund the Department of Justice (i.e., taxpayers).
The concept of charity is grossly misconstrued in modern American society. Charitable acts should be a result of a sincere interest in a cause or mission of the organization, not as a punishment or an attempted atonement. If one wishes to see more research done on breast cancer or more relief work done in Darfur, then there are appropriate organizations where one can send his or her money. However, guilt of one's or one's associate's actions is no reason to give money - be it theirs or their associate's - to an unaffected charity.