Last month, readers of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the trade journal of the nonprofit world, were treated to a memorable op-ed. It was written by John Arnold, a 40-year-old former Enron natural-gas trader and hedge-fund founder who, with his wife, ranked third on the 2013 list of the nation’s most generous benefactors. “Attacks and Vitriol Will Not Deter Me From Supporting Fixes to Public Policy,” the piece’s headline announced, and it went on to document the “intensely personal public attacks” Arnold had endured in retaliation for his contributions to the causes of education, criminal justice, and pension reform. He was falsely charged with attempting to make his donations surreptitiously, he claimed, and had been the target of “selective reporting” regarding his partisan sympathies (smeared, for instance, as a “right-wing ideologue,” without a mention of the fact that he raised money for Obama). And he’s been subjected to a steady stream of “juvenile insults” (one critic quipped that he had the “jug-eared face of a Division III women’s basketball coach”). That last one, evidently, stung.
These days, we’ve grown used to billionaires staking claims to victimhood; witness, for instance, venture capitalist Tom Perkins comparing the media’s focus on income inequality to the Nazi’s perpetration of Kristallnacht. But such laments tend to involve the “makers” grousing about their rough treatment at the hands of “takers.” Arnold’s op-ed aired a different grievance: He spoke not as an accumulator of a fortune, but as a redistributor of one. This was the defiant cri de coeur of the persecuted philanthropist.