Donors sup­port more than just aerial video

Laura, John Arnold gave mil­lions to area uni­ver­si­ties

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Doug Dono­van

From low-tech eye­glasses to high-tech spy­glasses, the wealthy Texas phi­lan­thropists bankrolling se­cret aerial sur­veil­lance of Bal­ti­more are no strangers to pub­lic pol­icy ini­tia­tives in Mary­land that match their char­i­ta­ble vi­sion.

In the spring, Laura and John Arnold gave $450,000 from their Hous­ton-based foun­da­tion to the Johns Hop­kins Univer- sity to sup­port a city ini­tia­tive to give free glasses to thou­sands of pub­lic school stu­dents to study how bet­ter vi­sion im­proves school per­for­mance.

As city and uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials gath­ered in May to kick off that plan, the Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment’s aerial sur­veil­lance pro­gram was re­ceiv­ing an­other $240,000 from the cou­ple to ramp up.

The sur­veil­lance pro­gram — which has sent a sin­gle-en­gine plane fly­ing 8,000 feet above Bal­ti­more to record hun­dreds of hours of video — be­gan in Jan­uary with an ear­lier, $120,000 gift to Bal­ti­more Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion that went to Per­sis­tent

Sur­veil­lance Sys­tems, the de­part­ment’s con­trac­tor on a mon­i­tor­ing ef­fort that po­lice of­fi­cials never dis­closed to the mayor be­fore start­ing.

While elected of­fi­cials are clam­or­ing for an­swers as to why the pub­lic was never in­formed of the clan­des­tine crime-fight­ing flights, an­other ques­tion has emerged: Who are th­ese 40-some­thing phi­lan­thropists, Laura and John Arnold?

“The fact that they’re so young and ded­i­cated makes them stand out in the phi­lan­thropy world,” said Stacy Palmer, ed­i­tor of the Chron­i­cle of Phi­lan­thropy, which tracks the giv­ing of the na­tion’s 50 wealth­i­est donors. “They’re not the type of donors who want their names slapped on a build­ing at a col­lege. They give to ad­vo­cacy.”

The cou­ple’s char­i­ta­ble giv­ing has spanned the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, from con­ser­va­tive is­sues such as re­form­ing pub­lic pen­sions to more lib­eral ef­forts to fix pre­trial crim­i­nal pro­cesses. Through their per­sonal and foun­da­tion gifts, the cou­ple has also pro­vided sub­stan­tial fund­ing to the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and its foun­da­tion, or­ga­ni­za­tions that are join­ing the chorus of com­plaints about the Bal­ti­more sur­veil­lance pro­gram.

In the past five years, the cou­ple has given away $1.2 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Chron­i­cle of Phi­lan­thropy. Their foun­da­tion has $1.8 bil­lion in as­sets and awarded $617 mil­lion in grants from Jan­uary 2011 to June 30, 2016, tax and foun­da­tion records show.

The cou­ple also has per­son­ally given away nearly $600 mil­lion dur­ing that time.

The Arnolds de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle. In a state­ment, they said the sur­veil­lance pro­gram dove­tails with their strat­egy to sup­port ev­i­dence-based tech­niques that help po­lice de­part­ments fight crime.

“We in­vest in a wide ar­ray of crim­i­nal jus­tice is­sues and poli­cies, in­clud­ing strate­gies for im­prov­ing the clear­ance rate of crim­i­nal cases. One such strat­egy is to use tech­nol­ogy to as­sist po­lice in early-stage in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” they said.

“To that end, we per­son­ally pro­vided fi­nan­cial sup­port for the aerial sur­veil­lance tool be­ing pi­loted in Bal­ti­more. As a so­ci­ety, we should seek to un­der­stand whether th­ese tech­nolo­gies yield sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits, while care­fully weigh­ing any such ben­e­fits against cor­re­spond­ing trade­offs to pri­vacy.”

It is no sur­prise to the phil­an­thropic com­mu­nity that a gift by the Arnolds would at­tract con­tro­versy. The cou­ple is part of the Giv­ing Pledge, the ef­fort started by bil­lion­aires War­ren Buf­fett and Bill Gates that en­cour­ages wealthy peo­ple to do­nate the bulk of their wealth to char­i­ties. In 2011, John Arnold crit­i­cized other phi­lan­thropists in that elite group for be­ing too safe with their char­i­ta­ble dol­lars.

“It’s strange be­cause a lot of peo­ple who’ve joined the Giv­ing Pledge took big risks in their pro­fes­sional life. But when it comes to phi­lan­thropy, peo­ple tend to get risk-averse,” Arnold told the Chron­i­cle of Phi­lan­thropy.

In an es­say in the pub­li­ca­tion in 2014, the 42-year-old Texan lashed out at crit­ics who said he was a con­ser­va­tive try­ing to un­der­mine pub­lic pen­sions, even though he is a Demo­crat who hosted a fundraiser for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“Peo­ple may not agree with ev­ery is­sue or pol­icy pro­posal we pur­sue,” he wrote in the Chron­i­cle. “We ex­pect rea­son­able minds to dis­agree, and we wel­come con­struc­tive de­bate on the mer­its of ev­ery is­sue in which we are in­volved.”

Arnold also at­tempted to counter crit­i­cism that he made his for­tune at En­ron be­fore the en­ergy com­pany im­ploded in what he de­scribed in his es­say as “one of the most dev­as­tat­ing cor­po­rate bank­rupt­cies of all time.”

He was one of the com­pany’s top traders and among 100 ex­ec­u­tives who re­ceived large bonuses — his was re­port­edly $8 mil­lion — a year be­fore the com­pany went bank­rupt, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports from 2002. Forbes mag­a­zine es­ti­mates his net worth at $2.8 bil­lion.

His wife is a 43-year-old, Yale-ed­u­cated cor­po­rate lawyer.

The Laura and John Arnold Foun­da­tion has six pri­mary ini­tia­tives that include crim­i­nal jus­tice, health, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, pen­sions and other is­sues.

The Arnolds de­scribe their giv­ing phi­los­o­phy on their foun­da­tion and per­sonal websites as seek­ing “trans­for­ma­tional change.”

Their foun­da­tion’s spokes­woman, Leila Walsh, said the cou­ple does not di­rect their char­i­ta­ble giv­ing to any spe­cific ur­ban pro­file and they have no per­sonal ties to Mary­land.

“Rather, we use our re­sources to help solve sys­temic prob­lems af­fect­ing commu- ni­ties across the na­tion,” Walsh said in a writ­ten state­ment. “We study prob­lems in great de­tail, sur­vey ex­ist­ing data and re­search, and speak with lead­ing ex­perts. We then fund the de­vel­op­ment of pro­posed so­lu­tions and sup­port rig­or­ous eval­u­a­tions of those pro­grams and in­ter­ven­tions. Once pro­grams are shown to be suc­cess­ful, we sup­port ef­forts to repli­cate and scale those ini­tia­tives.”

Of the $360,000 the cou­ple gave for the sur­veil­lance pro­gram, $120,000 was di­rected to the Bal­ti­more Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion, which man­ages two sep­a­rate funds for the Po­lice De­part­ment. A sec­ond gift of $240,000 went through a na­tional char­ity in Wash­ing­ton called the Po­lice Foun­da­tion, which is ex­pected to pro­duce an eval­u­a­tion of the pro­gram’s ef­fec­tive­ness by the end of next month.

Some have ques­tioned why the Bal­ti­more Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion, with its mis­sion of pub­lic char­i­ta­ble work, would be in­volved in a se­cret sur­veil­lance pro­gram.

Aaron Dorf­man, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee for Re­spon­sive Phi­lan­thropy in Wash­ing­ton, said com­mu­nity foun­da­tions should not blindly al­low donors to dic­tate what gets funded if their wishes do not align with the char­ity’s mis­sion.

“The com­mu­nity should de­cide what polic­ing it wants and what type of sur­veil­lance is and is not ap­pro­pri­ate,” Dorf­man said. “This kind of sur­veil­lance should not be done sim­ply be­cause a donor is will­ing to pay for it.”

Thomas E. Wil­cox, Bal­ti­more Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent, apol­o­gized for not know­ing the grant was specif­i­cally for a sur­veil­lance pro­gram that had not gone through pub­lic vet­ting.

“We un­der­stand this pro­gram has evoked many strong feel­ings and raised im­por­tant ques­tions about the Bal­ti­more Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion’s process for fa­cil­i­tat­ing gifts for spe­cific pur­poses,” Wil­cox and Laura Gam­ble, the foun­da­tion’s board chair­wom- an, said in a joint state­ment Thurs­day night. “As an or­ga­ni­za­tion, we have learned valu­able lessons from this ex­pe­ri­ence and will in­crease our scru­tiny of this type of pay­ment. Specif­i­cally, we will re­quire govern­ment agen­cies to promptly and pub­licly dis­close re­ceipt of funds and ad­here to all ap­pli­ca­ble pub­lic re­port­ing re­quire­ments.”

The Arnolds have made sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant gifts in Mary­land.

Their foun­da­tion awarded a $1.4 mil­lion grant to the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park in May 2015 to sup­port the cre­ation of the Mary­land Data Anal­y­sis Cen­ter, which will gather data from crim­i­nal jus­tice agen­cies across the state into a cen­tral data­base. Re­searchers will then be able to spot trends and iden­tify bot­tle­necks in the crim­i­nal jus­tice process that could then be tar­geted for re­form.

Johns Hop­kins has also been a ben­e­fi­ciary in ad­di­tion to the eye­glasses ef­fort.

Other gifts to Hop­kins include: a $2.5 mil­lion grant in 2015 to sup­port a cur­ricu­lum pro­gram that helps stu­dents grad­u­ate from high school; $318,000 in Fe­bru­ary to the Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health for re­search aimed at de­vel­op­ing fair pric­ing for spe­cialty drugs; $306,625 this year for op­er­at­ing sup­port for the uni­ver­sity’s Cen­ter for Re­search and Re­form in Ed­u­ca­tion; $218,000 two years ago to study “the im­pact of the Af­ford­able Care Act on pub­lic safety”; and a $150,000 grant this year for re­search aimed at help­ing “re­duce chronic ab­sen­teeism among stu­dents” through the My Brother’s Keeper School Suc­cess Men­tors and Stu­dent Sup­port Ini­tia­tive.

“They are risk-tak­ers,” said James Lynch, who so­licited the foun­da­tion’s money for the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land data cen­ter. “They don’t screw around. It’s a busi­nesslike process. They ex­pect some­thing for their money.”

Some­times, he said, “the knowl­edge we get is how not to do things.”

In the past five years, Laura and John Arnold have given away $1.2 bil­lion.

DAVID ROSSMAN/ HOUS­TON CHRON­I­CLE

Laura and John Arnold gave $360,000 for the po­lice aerial sur­veil­lance pro­gram, which sent a plane to record hun­dreds of hours of video above Bal­ti­more.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

John Arnold, who has a $2.8 bil­lion for­tune, bankrolled the se­cret aerial sur­veil­lance pro­gram. In a state­ment, John and Laura Arnold said the pro­gram dove­tails with their strat­egy to sup­port ev­i­dence-based tech­niques that help po­lice de­part­ments fight crime.

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