Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Plenty of articles regarding whether to repeal or relax the Johnson Amendment. Here is a sample:
Chronicle of Philanthropy: Doug White, “Mr. Trump, Let’s End the Hypocrisy and Deny Tax Breaks to Churches"
Tax Prof Blog: collecting articles by the New York Times, Daniel Hemel (Chicago), Roger Colinvaux (Catholic), Ellen Aprill (Loyola-LA), and Andrew Lewis (Cincinnati).
Washington Post: containing a defense of legislation not to repeal but relax the Johnson amendment from the legislation’s sponsors: James Lankford, Steve Scalise, and Jody Hice.
Washington Times (editorial): Be Careful What You Wish For.
Inside Philanthropy: Jon Levine and David Callahan, "The Biggest Loser From Repealing the Johnson Amendment? Philanthropy.
Monday, February 6, 2017
In this post on the Surly Subgroup, Prof. Lloyd Mayer discusses the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the IRS as a regulator of the nonprofit sector. Here is the opening paragraph:
The Donald J. Trump Foundation admits to illegal self-dealing (The Washington Post). The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation files amended annual returns to correct numerous reporting errors (Amended Returns Fact Sheet). A white nationalist group avoids filing annual returns for several years, apparently in reliance on a bureaucratic misclassification (The Washington Post). On “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” thousands of churches violate the prohibition on IRC section 501(c)(3) organizations supporting or opposing candidates (CNN). These and numerous other recent examples of behavior by tax-exempt organizations that clearly violates the applicable tax laws lead to one obvious question: where was the IRS? The growing perception – and sometimes although not always the reality – is that when it comes to the administration and enforcement of those laws there is no one home.
Friday, February 3, 2017
...but gaining a tax deduction!
At the recent National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump stated:
It was the great Thomas Jefferson** who said, the God who gave us life, gave us liberty. Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God. Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.
Some may not know the term “the Johnson Amendment,” but I am guessing that most of the readers of this blog would be familiar with Code Section 501(c)(3)’s prohibition on election intervention (“and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”) Famously, Lyndon Johnson was somewhat irritated by negative comments made by a tax-exempt organization (note: not a church… ) during his campaign for re-election to the Senate; thus the Johnson Amendment adding the prohibition on electioneering was born in 1954
Of course, “totally destroying” statutory provisions is traditionally the prerogative of Congress, so it remains to be seen whether this change will come to pass. A bill repealing the Johnson Amendment is introduced regularly each legislative session and rarely makes any progress; query if the current political climate would give it more traction. One wonders if the change takes the form of a repeal of the Section 501(c)(3) language (which would open electioneering to all c3s) or a special exception just for churches or religious organizations. Finally, would such repeal include rules that mirror the income tax provisions that disallow deductions for membership dues allocable to lobbying? If not, I suspect that a large number of political donors of all stripes will suddenly find religion right quick.
For further discussion of these issues, please see this piece by the most awesome Ellen Aprill in the Washington Post, who has probably forgotten more about the political and lobbying rules for nonprofits than I ever hope to know.
*With apologies to R.E.M.
**cough** This is me not commenting on the fact that Trump is quoting Thomas Jefferson, author of the First Amendment. Of course, all political commentary (or non-commentary, as the case may be) is my own individually and should not be attributed to anyone else. EWW
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
The NonProfit Times reports that the new year and new administration brings uncertainty to the future of the H-1B visa program. “The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows for-profit companies and nonprofits to employ people in graduate level fields that require expertise in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”
The program is a vital way in which universities attract and retain the best and brightest minds across the globe. In 2016, 29,227 H-1B applications were approved for non-profits, with almost 27,000 of those being universities. Commentators are concerned that a change in the program could hinder both the quantity and quality of research in American universities.
While President Trump has not taken an official stance on the H-1B program, his insistence on immigration reform leaves the future of the program less than certain. Some of President Trump’s appointees have openly opposed H-1B visas, leading to further speculation of the program’s prospects.
Anita Drummond, a non-profit attorney, stated that the United States higher education sector “prides itself on being a global citizen, bringing together perspectives and the best of the best.” Hopefully the new administration can build on this pride, offering our students a place where they may thrive.
David A. Brennen
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
A recent article from Non-Profit Quarterly speaks to the ability of not-for-profits to accumulate valuable assets, that is, social media capital. Although not appearing on the balance sheet, a solid social media presence can help non-profits reach their target audience both more efficiently and effectively.
While many non-profit managers may assume that spending valuable resources on a social media presence may be frivolous, in the end it may be a more economical way to solicit donations and spread the organizational mission to others. On the flip side, having immediate access and accessibility to these organizations changes the competitive landscape of non-profits.
The article brings to light an outline of how to both understand social media capital, and leverage it to your organization’s benefit. Although there are currently no accounting methods to account for social media assets, with the growing importance of social media coupled with the massive value associated with these presences, it is not impossible to envision a time in the coming years where these assets appear on the balance sheet, fundamentally changing how non-profits operate.
In a digital age it is of the utmost importance of all those involved in the management of a non-profit to understand how their organizations can build a sustainable advantage, lowering their operating costs while maximizing their potential reach.
David A. Brennen
The Supreme Court of Illinois is hearing arguments to determine the constitutionality of a 2012 law which exempts not-for-profit hospitals from paying property taxes, as long as their charity provided is at least equal to their property tax liability.
Some Illinois municipalities believe the hospitals are in fact making a profit, and should be held accountable for their fair share of property taxes. These municipalities believe the exemption may only be constitutionally granted if the property is used exclusively for charitable purposes.
The hospitals under review, however, argue that under the constitution the “exclusive use for charitable purposes” standard may be met as long as the hospital is “made available to all who need it regardless of ability to pay.”
Clearly this ruling will carry important policy implications that will impact the landscape of the health care industry. 156 of Illinois’ approximately 200 hospitals carry a not-for-profit status. Further, a report furnished for this case indicates that 47 Chicago area non-profit hospitals received property tax exemptions worth $279 million.
David A. Brennen
Saturday, January 21, 2017
More than a million people attended protests and marches over the weekend, including half a million in Washington DC. Protests and social movements are obviously an important part of civil society, but are rarely the focus of nonprofit scholars (aside: why is this?). But can one deduct the out-of-pocket expenses for traveling to participate in a protest/march?
Maybe. The tax code allows an itemized deduction for contributions made to a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which includes out-of-pocket expenses (such as travel) incurred while performing volunteer services for a nonprofit. Under some circumstances, traveling to a demonstration could meet this standard.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Haskell Murray, one of our co-conspirators over at the Business Law Prof Blog, recently wrote about a recent post by Rick Alexander, the head of Legal Policy at B Lab (of B Corp certification fame) on Benefit Corporations. Here's Prof. Murray's post:
Over at the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, Rick Alexander has a post on benefit corporations. I plan to post some comments on Rick's post next week, when I have a bit more time, but for now, I will just bring our readers' attention to the post and include a small portion of his post below:
Benefit corporations dovetail with the movement to require corporations to act more sustainably. However, the sustainability movement often treats the symptom (irresponsible behavior), not the root cause—the focus on individual corporate financial performance. Proponents of corporate responsibility often emphasize “responsible” actions that increase share value, by protecting reputation or decreasing costs. Enlightened self-interest is an excellent idea, but it is not enough. As long as investment managers and corporate executives are rewarded for maximizing the share value of individual companies, they will have incentives to impose costs and risks on everyone else.
Personally, I would argue that part of the root cause is that corporate financial performance is not required to appropriate take into account societal externalities, such as pollution - the true root cause. Nothing is going to make a corporation be a good citizen if it doesn't want to do so, even if it could under a benefit corporation structure. But that's just me. I am really looking forward to Prof. Murray's thoughts, and will try to post them when I see them.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
By Professor Alina S. Ball, UC Hastings - from the SSRN Abstract:
The social enterprise movement has ushered in a promising new wave of companies using market-based strategies to advance social and environmental change. The
longevity and growth of social enterprises will be determined by their ability to balance the complex and often competing interests within these unique business entities. The established corporate governance regime, which predominately addresses the characteristics of public companies, does not provide adequate oversight for promoting good corporate governance within the social enterprise sector. This Article argues that the benefit reporting requirements in hybrid-corporation statutes offer an innovative mechanism for encouraging and maintaining good social enterprise governance. Using the benefit reporting requirements within hybrid-corporation statutes as a model, this Article provides a normative framework and establishes the implementation principles for social enterprise governance across various legal entities. By counseling social enterprises on how to promote participatory democracy and increase the company’s capacity to detect and address problems, corporate lawyers serve a critical function in developing social enterprise governance. Using an approach guided by corporate lawyers and informed by social enterprise practitioners would build on the traditional corporate governance paradigm to develop narrowly tailored mechanisms that facilitate a more resilient social enterprise sector.
Suggested Citation: Ball, Alina S, Social Enterprise Governance (August 22, 2016). 18 U. PA. J. BUS. L. 919 (2016); UC Hastings Research Paper No. 179. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2827913.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Lecy, Van Lyke and Yoon: "What Do We Know About Nonprofit Entrepreneurs?: Results from a Large-Scale Survey"
Jesse Lecy, David Van Slyke, and Nara Yoon (all affiliated with Syracuse University) recently posted to SSRN an article detailing the results of a survey of the motivations behind the creation of new tax-exempt organizations. The SSRN abstract reads as follows:
While the academic fields of entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship have grown rapidly, nonprofit entrepreneurship has remained a minor field of inquiry, even though 50,000 nonprofits are started each year. Using a survey of 7,000 nonprofit founders, we provide baseline data on key dimensions of nonprofit entrepreneurship. We find that typical nonprofit entrepreneurs are distinct from for-profit entrepreneurs in several ways; they have bigger founding teams, are wealthier, older, more educated, and are less driven by self-employment. These differences inform a research agenda for the field. This study represents the first large-scale empirical analysis of entrepreneurship in the nonprofit sector.
Suggested Citation: Lecy, Jesse D. and Van Slyke, David M. and Yoon, Nara, What Do We Know About Nonprofit Entrepreneurs?: Results from a Large-Scale Survey (December 01, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2890231
From a legal perspective, I found two items immediately interesting: (1) the high number of new organizations that were "spin-offs" of projects that were housed elsewhere or had been operating informally, and (2) the barriers to entry created by paperwork (and knowledge thereof). It reinforces my personal concerns about the "informal" charitable economy, which simultaneously accomplishes many great things off-the-grid, and yet raises issues for me of inefficiency and diversion in limited charitable resources. An interesting read!
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Philanthropy Roundtable (represented by Morgan Lewis & Brockius) filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in support of a challenge to an aspect of McCain-Feingold/Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that requires disclosure of certain large donors to 501(c)(3) nonprofits if the nonprofit engages in election-related speech. The brief argues that donors to 501(c)(3) organizations have an interest in anonymity for three principal reasons:
- Religious or moral reasons for not wanting to have one's charitable contributions made public
- Concerns about public abuse or even government retaliation, and
- Practical concerns about finding oneself placed on additional mailing lists
For more information about the case, see the FEC's litigation page. Among the plaintiff's arguments is that the government's interest in mandating disclosure of information on donors to 501(c)(3) organizations is less than to 501(c)(4) organizations, distinguishing Citizens United on that basis. Because this is a direct appeal from a three-judge district court panel under a special review provision, the usual certiorari procedures do not apply.
Hat tip Election Law Blog/Rick Hasen. Who else?
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Happy New Year nonprofit champions and scholars! It's time for the obligatory predictions-about-new-year post: What legal and policy issues will be among the hottest in the new year? With the caveat that I'm particularly bad at predicting the future (me, 2006: "texting will never catch on"), I'll throw out a few USA-specific possibilities:
- Changing government funding environment, with potential for sharp decreases in both federal and state funding of health and social services
- Even more diminished role for IRS in charity oversight, shifting power to state attorneys general
- Additional attempts by to withhold government funding from nonprofits based on ideological disagreements (e.g., Planned Parenthood, anti-BDS laws)
- Debate over the extent of funding houses of worship and religious programming (e.g., the upcoming Trinity Lutheran case in the Supreme Court)
- Increased state disclosure mandates for politically active nonprofits (e.g., New York)
What else? What do you think will be the biggest issues facing the nonprofit sector this year?
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
In the face of a massive 200-percent expansion of registered Colorado nonprofits over the past 11 years, and following a model active in 13 other states, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman says she wants $350,000 to fund a new charity oversight unit and that nonprofit infrastructure groups have given the proposal some support.
Read the full article here. The author closes with the prediction that other states may also consider forming or strengthening charitable enforcement units in 2017.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
A recent Chronicle of Philanthropy study reports that over 50 "hate groups" have been granted tax exemption as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations:
The federal government has granted tax-exempt status to more than 60 controversial nonprofits branded by critics as "hate groups," including anti-immigrant and anti-gay-rights organizations, white nationalists, and Holocaust deniers, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy analysis.
The issue is a thorny one for the Internal Revenue Service, which must balance First Amendment rights against concerns that it is essentially granting government subsidies to groups holding views that millions of Americans may find abhorrent. Complicating matters, the IRS is already under fire from critics who say the agency has discriminated against conservative political organizations.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has compiled a list of nearly 900 so-called hate groups, most of them on the far right (although the roster also includes radical Islamists, black separatists, and other fringe groups) and many with deceptively innocuous-sounding names. The Chronicle analysis found that 55 of those organizations are registered as charities and eight are 501(c)(4) "social welfare" groups, which also enjoy tax exemptions.
Many groups on the list vehemently dispute the "hate" designation and say the Southern Poverty Law Center — known as SPLC and itself a tax-exempt organization — is a left-wing attack group.
For commentary on this issue, see Philip Hackney (LSU), "White Nationalists Groups are Charitable? Apparently so According to IRS"(The Surly Subgroup), and Eugene Volokh (UCLA), "No, the IRS may not deny tax exemptions on the grounds that a group is a supposed ‘hate group’" (The Washington Post op-ed).
Franklin: Philanthrocapitalism: Exacerbating the Antidemocratic, Paternalistic, and Amateuristic Nature of Philanthropy
Eric Franklin (UNLV) posted Philanthrocapitalism: Exacerbating the Antidemocratic, Paternalistic, and Amateuristic Nature of Philanthropy to SSRN. The article's abstract is:
The recent announcement by Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan to pledge Facebook stock worth $45 billion to various philanthropic efforts was met with more skepticism than praise. Most of the criticism concerned the couple’s decision to organize the CZI as a for-profit limited liability company (LLC), rather than the more traditional tax-exempt private foundation. Despite the tax benefits of private foundations, Zuckerberg and Chan were attracted to the fact that LLCs may freely engage in political activity, fund any type of entity, and participate in policy debates.
This begs the question: why should we care how Zuckerberg and Chan engage in charitable activity? The Facebook stock is, after all, their property, and the general public does not generally have any say in how the wealthy dispose of their property. This Article argues that the criticisms are warranted. The reason the public does (and should) care, is that the decision presents troubling questions about the role of philanthropy in our society and the consequences of philanthropists using for-profit vehicles to engage in charitable work.
For more than a century, sociologists have criticized philanthropy as antidemocratic, paternalistic, and amateuristic. However, the regulatory mechanisms governing private foundations ensure that the entities actually engage in publicly-blessed charitable activity, require numerous disclosures to increase accountability, and restrict certain political and lobbying activities. Although these mechanisms do not eliminate the negatives of philanthropy, they do limit their negative effect. As such, there is a convincing argument that philanthropy is worth these costs. The hope is that the mechanisms regulating private foundations result in a palatable balance between philanthropy’s negative and positive aspects.
However, the recent trend of conducting charity through for-profit vehicles throws that balance off. The regulatory bulwarks designed to encourage the positive aspects of philanthropy do not exist in the for-profit realm. As such, philanthropy conducted through for-profit vehicles encourages entities to engage in matters of public concern free from meaningful regulation and limitations.
This Article discusses each of the traditional critiques of philanthropy and explores how they are exacerbated when philanthropic efforts are conducted through a for-profit vehicles, such as LLCs.
Ellen P. Aprill (Loyola - Los Angeles) published Charitable Class, Disaster Relief, and First Responders in Tax Notes, vol. 153, no. 7 (2016). The article's abstract is:
The notion of charitable class bedevils tax law. The IRS has issued no precedential guidance regarding its scope or application. After the 9/11 terrorist attack, Congress enacted special provisions applicable only to victims of that disaster. In response to statements in the legislative history of those provisions, the IRS has changed several of its positions regarding the doctrine of charitable class, changes announced only in a publication on disaster relief. Nonetheless, disaster relief continues to raise difficult issues involving charitable class for Congress as well as the IRS. In the 15 years since 9/11, Congress has enacted special legislation to permit a small group of California firefighters and two New York police offers to be treated as satisfying the charitable class requirements.
This article reviews the use of charitable class in tax law, including its relationship to trust law, with particular attention on establishing new charitable purposes and classes. It then discusses disaster relief, both in the case of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. This discussion includes consideration of the roles that crowdfunding and exemption based on lessening the burden of government play in addressing disasters. The next section of the article examines the special legislation that Congress has enacted for two small groups of first responders. The piece concludes by recommending that the IRS both undertake a study of charitable class in general and issue precedential guidance regarding charitable class in the context of disaster relief. It also urges Congress to consider holding hearings and enacting special legislation for first responders.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Eric Franklin (UNLV) has posted A More Charitable Charity: Administrative Necessity Provides an Opportunity to Promote Altruism in Charities on SSRN with the following abstract:
The law of charities governs an absurdly wide-ranging field of organizations. A small group of antiquated statutes purport to govern a diversity of entities that range from hospitals worth millions of dollars to purely volunteer-run organizations that provide free childcare. Given the expansive nature of the law of charities, perhaps it is understandable that the law lacks a coherent guiding principle. This alone would not be problematic if not for the fact that most tax-exempt organizations do not comport with the general public’s idea of charity. An intuitive definition of charity relies upon a lack of self-regard. In other words, charity requires some level of altruism. But many charities pay lavish salaries and some are major players in the crass commercialism of the private market; such activities are far from any reasonable definition of altruism. Thus, to the extent that we expect charitable organizations to exhibit some level of altruism, the concept of charity has been stretched to a level that is almost unrecognizable.
In addition to diluting the concept of charity, the over-inclusive nature of tax-exempt law resulted in an unreasonable administrative burden for the IRS. Entities vying for charitable status flooded the agency with tax-exempt applications, crippling the IRS and resulting in an unacceptable backlog. To address this, the IRS created a streamlined application to make the application process more efficient. But critics claim that the streamlined process lacks anything resembling rigor and provides precious little data for evaluation.
Somewhat surprisingly, and certainly unintentionally, the IRS’s solution to its administrative burden provides an opportunity to address the law allowing charities to act in a less-than-altruistic manner. The IRS’s desperate attempt to curtail its administrative burden presents the occasion to create a new family of charities — one that does not strain any traditional definition of “charity.” This Article argues that, in exchange for the use of this streamlined process, charities should agree to forgo salaried employees and commercial activity. Such charities will, in a very real sense, be forced to operate in a more altruistic manner. Thus, these charities will be, in a sense, more charitable.
--Eric C. Chaffee
Friday, December 16, 2016
A new development in the NY bill (reported on yesterday) aimed at increasing transparency in 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations has emerged. Citizens Union of New York has filed suit in federal court challenging the new law, claiming the regulations impede on their right of free speech. The group argues the law “’chills’ speech by forcing donors to choose between ‘exercising speech . . . and subjecting themselves to burdensome obligations and public disclosures.’” The organization further believes the disclosure requirements will dissuade donations, directly impacting their operations. Will other non-profits in New York feel the same?
David A. Brennen
Thursday, December 15, 2016
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law Bill No. A. 10742/S. 8160 in an effort to increase transparency between donations coming from 501(c)(3) organizations going to 501(c)(4) organizations.
Some of the upcoming changes for 501(c)(4) organizations include a dramatically decreased amount (decreasing from $50,000 to $15,000) of funds spent on lobbying that triggers a source of funding report, and added more details to be included in said report.
Among other things, 501(c)(3) organizations now must fill out detailed reports for gifts to 501(c)(4) organizations that are greater than $2,500.
A detailed memo from the Lawyers Alliance for New York outlines the implications for non-profit organizations and exactly what the new regulations are.
David A. Brennen
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The Justice Department is investigating South Beach Missions of Oregon for allegedly fraudulently registering corporations as religions, entitling said corporations to 501(c)(3) status. The Justice Department believes that South Beach Missions is intentionally duping the federal government, and showing people how to set up phony churches in order to protect their assets from taxes. The government claims the organization has registered 126 active corporations, and 343 inactive ones, leading to “substantial” harm to the tax payer left footing the bill.
Unsurprisingly, South Beach Missions claims they have done no wrong, and believe they are acting within their First Amendment rights. Ted Landry, president of South Beach Missions, firmly believes he is helping people practice their legitimate religion. Mr. Landry believes the government has no place in defining what is and what is not religion, stating “you’re the only one who gets to figure it out.” South Beach Missions insists that they do not give out legal advice, despite the fact they circulate a 12-page booklet on the legality of corporations and churches.
There are obvious public policy concerns with people being able to establish pseudo-religions in the name of tax breaks. Further, unsuspecting churches registered by South Beach may face a crippling tax liability down the road if the government finds their church is not exempt, even if they were honestly practicing their religion. As obvious as the need to abate tax fraud is, so is the need for the government to allow for the freedom of religion, and adhere to Constitutional principles. It will be interesting to see how this is resolved.
David A. Brennen