I didn’t realize what a bad guy Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett is until someone in Pennsylvania put me onto a website called “Protect the Hersheys’ Children” (www.ProtectHersheyChildren.com), which is accusing Corbett and other powerful Republican cronies of exploiting a trust established to benefit poor children in order to line their own pockets.
This is the same Tom Corbett who has permitted the politicization of the Jordan Brown case to persist, allowed the perpetuation of official lies about the case evidence to protect incompetent and dishonest cops, and who condones the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent child whose formative years are being squandered in captivity.
Corbett’s indecent and callous disregard for children appears to follow a pattern.
Protect the Hersheys’ Children, Inc. (PHC), is a nonpartisan watchdog group that monitors the Hershey Trust, the world’s largest residential childcare charity with total assets of $8.5 billion.
PHC is led by its founder F. Frederic (Ric) Fouad, a commercial lawyer and alumnus of the Milton Hershey School; PHC’s membership includes a nucleus of other MHS alumni, as well as childcare professionals and other supporters. Ric was separated from his family as a child and spent seven of his formative years at the childcare facility funded by the Hershey Trust, a circumstance that informs his reform efforts.
“I have no heirs—that is, no children,” said Milton S. Hershey. “So I decided to make the orphan boys of the United States my heirs.” And he meant it to be literally so. He organized his estate so that all his assets—including his famous candy company—should exist to ultimately serve the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable and needy children. What has actually resulted is something much different than Hershey envisioned and which is, in fact, the fulfillment of Hershey’s worst nightmare.
“If the wrong people or organization get control, they can spend or give away more money than I have been able to make in my life, to build monuments unto themselves, for their own financial gains, for their ego and recognition—whose heads will swell and hearts will shrink, who would give to those who had plenty and withhold from those who had little or none,” Hershey worried to his friend and physician. This is exactly what has come to pass.
The Hershey Trust is under the supervision of Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is running for governor. The charity has been burdened by a host of problems, including excessive board compensation, questionable and wasteful spending, and poor childcare results, to which PHC claims Corbett has been turning a blind eye until it has suited his campaign’s need for publicity to recently announce an investigation into the Hershey Trust and their use of charity funds to purchase a golf course to make money for the trust’s board members and friends, among other things.
“The Milton Hershey School has been plagued by problems for years, and we have been bringing these problems to the attention of Tom Corbett to no avail,” said Fouad. “Corbett has ignored us time and time again until now, when he finds it politically advantageous to launch an investigation to generate positive headlines while running for Governor.”
The chairman of the Hershey Trust board is LeRoy Zimmerman, a former two-term state Attorney General and close political ally of Corbett; so it is unlikely Corbett’s investigation will result in any changes or (more unlikely yet) charges.
This large-scale plunder of Hershey’s charitable trust and betrayal of its founder’s purpose has been happening over a long period of time through a complex series of events which you can learn about in this video of “The Chocolate Heist,” a one-hour April 2010 presentation by Ric Fouad at the Harvard Law School:
(This link will take you to the first of six video segments, each about ten minutes long.)
There are two things about Mr. Faoud’s presentation that I find fascinating. The first is the decades of conniving that ensued almost as soon as Milton Hershey’s body was cold by selfish and jealous men to lay their hands on the huge fortune that Hershey had left for children that no one cares about. It makes me think of stories I have heard about eccentric old ladies leaving something like ten million dollars to their cats, and the kinds of self-serving stewards their estates seem to attract. Corbett and his cronies seem able to justify taking money from Hershey’s heirs—the “orphans” of America—with as little shame or compunction as if they were stealing money from a housecat.
The second thing that strikes me is the extraordinary amount of dedication, effort, and sacrifice Mr. Faoud has invested in his mission to clean out the nest of vipers that has taken control of Milton Hershey’s fortune and subverted Mr. Hershey’s charitable purposes. Mr. Faoud seems to be the one true trustee in this story.
In his time, Mr. Hershey was known as an innovator and advocate of what was then called “corporate welfare.” No, this had nothing to do with welfare payments to the poor as we understand “welfare” today, nor does it have anything to do with big corporations receiving bailouts and taxpayer-paid handouts. Rather, it was about the then-revolutionary (and now extinct) idea that if you look out for the welfare of your workers, you will earn workers’ loyalty and get better quality and more productivity from their work. Hershey designed his factories so they were well-lit, well-ventilated, clean and safe. He established Hershey PA as a “company town” with health clinics, parks, schools, libraries, community centers, etc., which were to serve employee welfare holistically in a total work/life/community context.
It was a brilliant and progressive vision, as was the Milton Hershey School. In establishing the school, Hershey did so in order that his values and principles should be carried on after his death and, hopefully through the school’s graduates and alumni, have a transformative impact on the greater society.
I spent a fair amount of time in my career consulting with major foundations and view what has happened to the Hershey Trust as shameful and scandalous and at total variance with commonly accepted standards within the foundation community. Mr. Faoud appears to have a truer ethic of trusteeship than the selfish and untrustworthy stewards who have the formal titles of “trustee” for–and who have reaped millions in compensation from–the Hershey Trust.
In the Q&A segment following his formal presentation at Harvard, Mr. Faoud expresses his frustration of having worked so relentlessly for a decade with so few results. His frustration is telling in his reaction to a recent campaign promise by Dan Onorato, Corbett’s Democratic opponent, to “see this charity reformed so all these resources go to needy kids and for the best possible programs.”
“This is the first unequivocal statement we have seen from any major political leader acknowledging the grave problems in Hershey,” said Faoud. “Of equal importance to us, Dan committed to action if elected, something we never saw from Attorney General Corbett despite six years in office and every chance to address this charity’s problems.”
Unfortunately (and thanks in part to political contributions to Corbett’s campaign by the Hershey Trust) Corbett is favored to beat Onorato in this week’s election. Thus, it is likely that Mr. Faoud will experience many more frustrations before his goal is achieved.
This might be a good time to send a financial gift to Mr. Faoud’s organization if you can afford it. He’ll be needing encouragement to keep up the good fight. If you live in Pennsylvania, please consider voting for Onorato.
Otherwise it’s looking like there will be the equivalent of poison candy given out to kids from the Pennsylvania governor’s mansion for the next four years.
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