Why is it that so many filthy-rich people have skin thinner than a dollar bill?
With last week came the news that John Moores, owner of a sub-par professional baseball team that plays its games at Qualcomm Stadium, got his fragile feelings hurt by an opinion column that appeared in The Daily Aztec, the student-run newspaper at San Diego State.
Columnist Lenn Bell noted that Fortune magazine recently rated Moores one of the greediest corporate executives in the United States (Bell said Moores ranked 14th, but Fortune actually said he was No. 5. The confusion came from Fortune's ranking of Peregrine Systems, Moores' software firm, as the company with the 14th greediest executives. It's a minor distinction, we know).
In any case, the basis for the magazine's attack was Moores' dumping of $646 million worth of his own Peregrine stock while the company was overstating its revenues by as much as $100 million. Peregrine has been slapped with numerous shareholder lawsuits and is under investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission. It has in turn sued its former auditing firm, Arthur Andersen (yep, that Arthur Andersen). It has been de-listed by NASDAQ, and its stock price has plummeted from $84 to 6 cents per share. Peregrine laid off 1,400 employees in June and filed for bankruptcy in September. Through it all, Moores has been a member of the company's Board of Directors.
Columnist Bell opined that perhaps the university should not be so quick to publicly show Moores' its gratitude for his generous donations to the school's athletic department. He has reportedly given more than $28 million to the school. Among other things, he financed San Diego State's baseball stadium.
Bell concluded his piece with, “San Diego State has a moral and ethical responsibility to see that no one exhibiting this form of behavior, regardless of monetary commitment, is honored in any memorial fashion.” It's a reasonable enough argument. It's, at the very least, worthy of some spirited debate, which is precisely the purpose of newspaper opinion pages.
Certainly, donating millions to a university sports program is no small thing. San Diego State athletics is better off now than before Moores came around. Presumably, that's what Moores is thinking. The Union-Tribune published a story based on several apparently reliable, yet anonymous, sources saying Moores was so upset by Bell's opinion that he's decided to pinch off the flow of money from him to the university.
Assuming the story is accurate, what would Moores like the university to do? Expel Lenn Bell? Expel The Daily Aztec? It's not the university's fault the paper printed unflattering words about the guy. All Moores is doing is punishing the school's athletes. That is, of course, assuming he planned to continue to donate money.
And it's just the opinion of one college student. Holy cow-can Moores be that sensitive? Moores is absolutely free to do whatever he wishes with his millions, but it would be very unfortunate indeed for the university to get cut off over damaged feelings. Especially when all Bell did was suggest the university take the moral high road.
The university has certainly benefited from Moores' generosity. But we wonder what Peregrine's laid-off employees and bilked shareholders think of his acts of monetary kindness. Maybe he knew the company was going down the toilet when he cashed in his chips, and maybe he didn't. But guilty of fraud or not, he got hundreds of millions of dollars; all those other people got screwed.