Congress Causing Charitable Donations To Suffer

Charity is a victim of this sudden radioactivity. Golf events raise about $3.5 billion a year, according to SRI International, and only $130 million of that was generated by professional tours. The rest came via 16,000 golf clubs that provide venues.

Hilary Fordwich, who once ran KPMG’s global marketing, is now president of Strelmark Business Development Consultants in Washington, D.C. An avid golfer, she qualified for two Women’s Southern Amateurs with a single-digit handicap, and her website is peppered with links to golfing sites and to her video interviews of pros, including Jack Nicklaus.

Fordwich regularly invites CEOs to golf fundraisers for charity, but when she recently approached the CEO of a large government contractor to sponsor a pro-am for the PGA’s tour in support of the Melwood charity for the disabled, he declined. The company had participated in the past and was doing well in the current economic downturn. The only explanation was that the CEO did not want to appear in a public golf event, concerned about image at a time when Congress is sensitive to CEO excess, says Fordwich, who declined to identify the CEO or company.

The CEO, instead, invited Fordwich to a private golf outing. Golf was still played, only the charity suffered, Fordwich says. The public thinks the fundraising tournaments are “boondoggles,” but this is how money is raised, she says.

Such delicacies seem to end where golf meets Washington influence rather than Washington scrutiny. A USA TODAY analysis of lobbying efforts published this month found that when companies contribute to the charities of members of Congress, they are often rewarded with invitations to play golf with those working on health care and other issues of enormous financial consequence.

Barney Adams, founder of Adams Golf and holder of golf patents, says he is not a fan of being politically correct for expedience. He says that both the game and the charities deserve better and calls CEOs “hypocrites” when they quit or hide their golf for public relations reasons.

Leslie Gaines-Ross, a longtime CEO watcher and chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, doubts if fewer CEOs are playing golf. “But no sane CEO would dare brag about his or her golf game during these difficult economic times. CEO reputations are extremely vulnerable, and CEOs are hypersensitive about bad PR. Why throw oil on the fire?”

Graef Crystal, an outspoken critic of CEO compensation and perks, has twice studied large companies run by CEOs with good golf games and has found those companies, in general, tend to perform above average. He says his “pop-psychology take” is that superior corporate performance may require the same focus and discipline required of good golf.

By Del Jones, USA TODAY


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