December 2006 Ethics Dunces
Franklin HaneySometimes the Ethics Dunce designation may give its object too much credit. This may well be the case with Franklin Haney. Haney is a Washington D.C. developer who was among the parties trying to get Major League Baseball to let them buy the Washington Nationals last summer. In September of 2005, the team's charitable foundation held a fundraising gala, and naturally all the moneybags and tycoons vying for the team were expected to show up with wallets open. They all did, including Haney, who topped them all with the kind of gesture professional fundraisers dream about. He stood up and offered publicly to match whatever the event raised, dollar for dollar, to help the foundation in its work supporting youth sports and other worthy causes. That sum amounted to about $400,000.
What a guy!
Haney's generous gesture wasn't enough to win the prize he was after, however. The Nats ownership went to the Lerner ownership group, and Haney was left with the thrill of the chase and the good will he gained with the city and the media with his matching gift pledge. He was also left with $400,000, because Haney never matched the donations that night over a year ago, and now claims, through his lawyers, that he never made a "binding" promise to do so. It now seems pretty plain to all that his offer to match the donations was a ploy to give his prospects for ownership a boost, and once he didn't get the team, he reneged on his promise.
What a guy.
Revolting though it may seem, Haney's lawyers could be correct. Promises without consideration (that is, promises that are made with no exchange of benefits or even a promise in return) do not usually create a contractual obligation. The foundation contends that Haney's offer-for-show-not dough amounted to a fraud, and is seeking the matching funds plus four million dollars in punitive damages. It has a good argument too. A court will have to decide what the law says about Haney's ploy.
The Ethics Scoreboard can confidently lay down the ethics verdict on Haney's conduct right now. It was dishonest, deceptive, and thoroughly unethical, and establishes him as someone nobody should trust to honor his word, his promise, his handshake or his vow. The Scoreboard doesn't really have a category for Franklin Haney, who is not so much an "Ethics Dunce" as he is an "Ethics Creep." But Ethics Dunce will have to do.
And whatever happens in the Halls of Justice, there is a silver lining for Washington and the Nationals. Haney could have been awarded the team. Between the alternatives of getting an additional $400,000 and having the Nationals owned by someone with Haney's integrity vacuum, and not getting the money but having an owner who keeps his promises, the city is far better off with the latter.