Whose money is Bristol-Myers-Squibb giving away?

Over the holidays you probably received a chain e-mail inviting you to go to a Website prominently displaying the name of Bristol-Myers-Squibb and click on an electronic candle burning there, whereupon the drug company would make a contribution to AIDS treatment.  It’s hardly the first example of click-here-and-we’ll-contribute viral marketing, but it had been interestingly elaborated: each visitor to the site could only click once, giving added incentive to pass on the link to as many e-mail addresses as possible.  (The Nonprofiteer, for instance, got the word not only from regular commenters but from brand-new correspondents, long-lost old friends and slight acquaintances of every degree of separation.)

Such campaigns annoy the Nonprofiteer–the company will deduct the money as a business expense for advertising; is it too much to ask that it actually do the work itself rather than get guilt-ridden survivors of people with AIDS to do it for them?–but she couldn’t articulate her objection til she read that Bristol-Myers just settled with the government over the company’s marketing practices, such as neglecting to notify Medicare of discounts available on its drugs.  The New York Times is careful not to call this a price-fixing case.

So this isn’t just standard chump-change-so-you-won’t-hate-big-pharma.  This is chump-change-taken-from-the-money-we-stole-from-everyone-who-needs-prescription-medicines-so-you-won’t-hate-big-pharma.

At what point do charities stop permitting ourselves to be used as tinsel, and leave greed naked for all to see?  We all know there’s a line, but how do we find it?  When the Family Violence Prevention Fund rejected a gift from tshirthell.com was it refusing to participate in the exploitation of women, or cutting off its nose to spite its face?

Informed of the genesis of the candle, regular commenter Jerry Case was philosophical: "Well, that’s crappy news.  But when you stop and think about it no capitalistic company the size of a drug company is going to just give away millions without some reasons and this one sounds like they are trying to save their hide." 

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