Rich Bitch

by Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker; September 29, 2008.

For a tale of philanthropic extravagance, we need not look far from Wall Street. In the New Yorker, contributor Jeffrey Toobin tells a fetching story of a cashed-up pooch named Trouble. Trouble, a female Maltese, was left US$12 million in a trust fund by her owner, the notorious New York hotel tycoon, Leona Helmsley. Ms Helmsley’s bequest and the establishment of her foundation (purportedly worth between $3 to 8 billion) have triggered howls that US philanthropy has gone to the dogs. Mostly because this exorbitant philanthropic legacy has one primary mission: canine care.

Toobin questions whether and how trustees should abide by their fiduciary duty to oversee the new foundation. It is Ms. Helmsley’s legal right to dispose of her billions any way she sees fit, but given the dollars are tax exempt under the American tax code, Toobin asks whether it’s morally acceptable to give such a large sum to pets when there are so many humans in need.

Should the State use this case of the ‘rich bitch’ to tighten the leash on what qualifies for tax exemption? Or, are Trouble’s critics barking up the wrong tree?

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