A Better World With Ted Turner's Money

Ted Turner is a trailblazer. Bold and brash, he never pretends to be something he's not - so why is an organization he built doing precisely that?

Not only did he create the first 24-hour cable news channel, CNN, but he also donated $1 billion to support the United Nations -- at a time when the US balked at paying its UN dues in full.

He's also very smart. Turner didn't give the money directly to them. Instead, he established the UN Foundation in 1998, to oversee a trust fund set up with his historic gift. Today, he serves as chairman of the Foundation's board.

The Foundation claims it "supports UN causes and activities" and "is an advocate for the UN and a platform for connecting people, ideas and resources to help the UN solve global problems."

According to Turner, by 2010 it had invested more than $1.6 billion -- $760 million from his gift and more than $900 million from individuals, corporations, governments, and private charities. The remainder of his funds will be disbursed by the end of 2014.

Clearly, his donation is the gift that keeps on giving, as the Foundation reports that for every dollar it spends, it leverages an additional $1.25 from partners. This means Turner's money may run out, but the Foundation will continue to operate for as long as it receives contributions from other donors.

The UN will also continue to exist for as long as it receives funding from its 193 member states. The US, as the largest single contributor to the UN, fattens its coffers by paying 22 percent of the organization's regular budget -- about $5.4 billion in 2012-13.

But that's not all, as the UN has a huge appetite. The US was assessed 28% of the estimated $7.33 billion UN peacekeeping budget by the General Assembly in 2012-13, even though Congress capped US expenditures for UN peacekeeping at 25% under a 1994 law. (This cap was recently modified by Congress and the Obama administration, but could kick in again in 2014.)

The Foundation claims to have a "sister organization" called the Better World Fund which, in turn, runs a major project named the Better World Campaign. By all appearances, they are one and the same, as they share the same office, staff and even board of directors.

So why not just admit you represent the UN Foundation instead of claiming to be the "Better World" this or that?

Perhaps it's because a major part of the "Better World" effort is to ensure continued congressional funding for the UN at current or increased levels. In fact, any time Congress sends a message to the world body that it needs to reform, or else its US funding will be cut, the "Better Worlds" jump into action as if the very survival of the UN is at stake.

This knee-jerk reaction doesn't help an organization in dire need of renewal and change. With others lobbying professionally and extensively on its behalf, the UN remains immune from undergoing badly needed transformation.

The organization needs something akin to a restrictive diet - with a detox treatment to rid it of corruption and rot. If not, it will remain blissfully happy with its current state of bloated and festering decay, instead of taking the drastic measures needed to get into shape. (Turner could even ask his ex-wife, fitness guru Jane Fonda, for some tips on doing this.)

A better world means having a better UN -- one that's healthy, dynamic and vibrant enough to tackle the many global challenges we face.

This may not be easy to achieve, but having fewer lobbyists who do more harm than good would be a start.