Friday, March 17, 2017

Brunson & Herzig: A Diachronic Approach to Bob Jones: Religious Tax Exemptions after Obergefell

Brunson HerzigSamuel D. Brunson (Loyola-Chicago) and David Herzig (Valparaiso) have posted A Diachronic Approach to Bob Jones: Religious Tax Exemptions after Obergefell, Indiana Law Journal (forthcoming). Here is the abstract:

In Bob Jones v. U.S., the Supreme Court held that an entity may lose its tax exemption if it violates a fundamental public policy, even where religious beliefs demand that violation. In that case, the Court held that racial discrimination violated fundamental public policy. Could the determination to exclude same-sex individuals from marriage or attending a college also be considered a violation of fundamental public policy? There is uncertainty in the answer. In the recent Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex marriage, the Court asserted that LGBT individuals are entitled to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.” Constitutional law scholars, such as Lawrence Tribe, are advocating that faith groups might lose their status, citing that this decision is the dawning of a new era of constitutional doctrine in which fundamental public policy will have a more broad application.

Regardless of whether Obergefell marks a shift in fundamental public policy, that shift will happen at some point. The problem is, under the current diachronic fundamental public policy regime, tax-exempt organizations have no way to know, ex ante, what will violate a fundamental public policy. We believe that the purpose of the fundamental public policy requirement is to discourage bad behavior in advance, rather than merely punish it after it occurs. As a result, we believe that the government should clearly delineate a manner for determining what constitutes a fundamental public policy. We suggest recommended three safe harbor regimes that would allow religiously-affiliated tax-exempt organizations to know what kinds of discrimination are incompatible with tax exemption. Tying the definition of fundamental public policy to strict scrutiny, to the Civil Rights Act, or to equal protection allow a tax-exempt entity to ensure compliance, ex post. In the end, though, we believe that the flexibility attendant to equal protection, mixed with the nimbleness that the Treasury Department would enjoy in crafting a blacklist of prohibited discrimination, would provide the best and most effective safe harbor regime.

Lloyd Mayer

March 17, 2017 in Federal – Judicial, Publications – Articles, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Colinvaux: The Importance of Participatory Charitable Giving Incentive

ColinvauxRoger Colinvaux (Catholic) has posted The Importance of a Participatory Charitable Giving Incentive, 154 Tax Notes No. 5 (2017). Here is the abstract:

Leading tax reform proposals contemplate a charitable deduction claimed by just five percent of taxpayers. Such a limited deduction would fatally undermine the foundations of a giving incentive that has fostered an altruistic and pluralistic society through its broad-based participation and would seriously harm the charitable sector. Section 501(c)(3) would recede in importance as setting the standard for a public benefit organization. More gifts would go to private benefit and political organizations. The article argues that a charitable deduction for the few should be rejected. Instead, Congress should consider expanding the charitable giving incentive by extending it to more taxpayers in the form of a credit. A credit would remove long-standing inequities, allow for smarter charitable giving policy in the future, and improve transparency. If a charitable deduction for the few does become part of tax reform, however, changes should be made to ensure that deductible contributions are not abused but go to active public charities.

Lloyd Mayer

March 17, 2017 in Publications – Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fleischer: Subsidizing Charity Liberally

 

FleischerMiranda Perry Fleischer (San Diego) has posted Subsidizing Charity Liberally. Here is the abstract:

Our Constitution enshrines two bedrock principles of Western liberal democracies: limited government and equal opportunity. This Chapter explores the extent to which the charitable tax subsidies reflect these principles, as expressed in the two theories of distributive justice respectively associated with them, libertarianism and resource egalitarianism. This analysis shows that the subsidies’ current structure is much broader than necessary to reflect libertarian ideals, even under the more permissive classical liberal theories. As a result, the subsidies undermine the principle of limited government by coercing taxpayers to subsidize activities that are not the legitimate purview of government. The subsidies’ relation to resource egalitarianism is more complex: They are broader than the most common interpretations of resource egalitarianism justify, and undermine basic equality of opportunity notions both by subsidizing activities that increase the head-start of the wealthy and by giving wealthy taxpayers more say over government resources than poorer taxpayers. That said, the subsidies do reflect less well-known and more controversial accounts of resource egalitarianism that address expensive tastes and talent-pooling.

Lloyd Mayer

March 17, 2017 in Publications – Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lemos & Charles: Patriotic Philanthropy? Financing the State with Gifts to Government

LemosCharlesMargaret H. Lemos (Duke) and Guy-Uriel E. Charles (Duke) have posted Patriotic Philanthropy? Financing the State with Gifts to Government. Here is the abstract:

Federal and state law prohibit government officials from accepting gifts or “emoluments” from outside sources. The purpose of gift bans, like restrictions on more explicit forms of bribery, is to protect the integrity of political processes and to ensure that decisions about public policy are made in the public interest — not to advance a private agenda. Similar considerations animate regulations on campaign funding and lobbying. Yet private entities remain free to offer gifts to government itself, to foot the bill for particular public projects they would like to see government pursue. Such gifts — dubbed “patriotic philanthropy” by one prominent donor — raise fundamental questions about the private role in public policymaking, questions that are central to debates over campaign finance, private philanthropy, and the privatization of government functions. Nevertheless, they have received virtually no attention in the legal literature. This Article offers a positive and normative account of gifts to government. Although we do not question the enormous good that patriotic philanthropy can do, we argue that gifts raise significant concerns about democratic process, equality, and state capacity.

Lloyd Mayer

March 17, 2017 in Publications – Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mayer: The Challenge of Protecting Cross-Border Funding of NGOs

Mayer2015I have posted Globalization Without a Safety Net: The Challenge of Protecting Cross-Border Funding of NGOs, 102 Minnesota Law Review (forthcoming). Here is the abstract:

More than 50 countries around the world have sharply increased legal restrictions on both domestic non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) that receive funding from outside their home country and the foreign NGOs that provide such funding and other support. These restrictions include requiring advance government approval before a domestic NGO can accept cross-border funding, requiring such funding to be routed through government agencies, and prohibiting such funding for NGOs engaged in certain activities. Publicly justified by national security, accountability, and other concerns, these measures often go well beyond what is reasonably supported by such legitimate interests. These restrictions therefore violate international law, which provides that the right to receive such funding is an essential aspect of freedom of association. Yet affected NGOs cannot rely on the international human rights treaties that codify this right because those treaties have limited reach and lack effective avenues for remedying these violations.

There is, however, a growing web of international investment treaties designed to protect cross-border flows of funds, leading some supporters of cross-border funding for NGOs to argue that NGOs can instead use these investment treaties to protect such funding. In this Article, I provide the most thorough consideration of this proposal to date, including taking into account not only the legal hurdles to invoking investment treaty protections in this context but also the practical hurdles based on recently gathered information regarding the costs to parties who pursue claims under these treaties. I conclude that while it may be possible to overcome both sets of hurdles in some situations, these hurdles are higher than previous commentators have acknowledged. In particular, overcoming the high costs of bringing claims under these treaties would at a minimum require a concerted effort to fund or reduce such costs through either securing substantial third party financing or recruiting significant pro bono assistance.

Given these obstacles to invoking the protections of international investment treaties, I then explore the insights that the remarkable growth in such treaties provide regarding the conditions that would need to exist for countries to be convinced to enact a similar set of agreements to protect cross-border funding of NGOs. I conclude that such conditions are currently absent and that it will take many years to see if they could develop, even assuming that many countries continue to increasingly restrict or effectively prohibit such funding. In the meantime, both recipients and providers of cross-border funding for NGOs will need to consider alternate strategies that do not rely on international law to counter such restrictions.

Lloyd Mayer

March 17, 2017 in International, Publications – Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

McLaughlin: Conservation Easements and the Valuation Conundrum

McLaughlinThe final version of Conservation Easements and the Valuation Conundrum, 19 Florida Tax Review 225 (2016), written by Nancy McLaughlin (Utah) is now available. Here is the abstract:

For more than fifty years, taxpayers have been able to claim a federal charitable income tax deduction under Internal Revenue Code § 170(h) for the donation of a conservation easement or a façade easement. For just as long, the deduction has been subject to abuse, including valuation abuse. Dismayed by the expenditure of significant judicial and administrative resources to combat abuse in the easement donation context, the Treasury Department recently proposed reforms, including reforms to address valuation abuse. The reforms were proposed in somewhat of an analytical vacuum, however, because there has been no comprehensive analysis of the easement valuation case law. This article fills that void. It examines the easement valuation case law and discusses the most common methods by which taxpayers or, more precisely, their appraisers overvalue easements. It also proposes alternative reforms informed by the lessons learned from the case law. Concise summaries of the relevant facts and holdings of the cases are included in appendices.

Lloyd Mayer

March 17, 2017 in Federal – Executive, Federal – Judicial, Publications – Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Form 1023-EZ Problems - How Will the IRS Respond?

Form 1023-ezLast month the IRS made publicly available information from approved Forms 1023-EZ (Streamlined Application for Recognition of Exemption). As Terri Helge noted in this space, one question those data raised was whether hundreds of churches had used the form to obtain IRS recognition of their tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), as a review of the names of successful applicants suggested. Such use would be problematic because churches are ineligible to use the streamlined application.

Yesterday the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported (subscription required) that "Some Charities Misuse IRS Short Registration Form, Chronicle Data Suggests." The article focuses in particular on the fact that some applicants quickly grew into million-dollar-plus organizations even though the streamlined application is only supposed to be used by charities that expect to have relatively modest financial resources.

Both these observations raise serious concerns about whether the attempt by the IRS to limit the use of the form to relatively small charities that do not raise any complicated legal issues is failing, with hundreds if not thousands of ineligible organizations obtaining a favorable IRS determination letter by using the streamlined form. These observations also further bolster earlier concerns raised by the National Taxpayer Advocate, who drew on the IRS' own determination that the approval rate for Form 1023-EZ users drops from 95 percent to 77 percent when the IRS reviewed documents or basic information of applicants. The question we are left with is how will the cash-strapped and politically battered IRS respond to these apparent shortcomings. No word from the IRS on the answer to this question yet.

Lloyd Mayer

March 17, 2017 in Federal – Executive, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Richard Spencer's White Nationalist Nonprofit Loses Tax-Exempt Status - For Failing to File Required Annual Returns

National Policy InstituteThe L.A. Times reports that the IRS has revoked the tax-exempt status of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist group headed by Richard Spencer, effective as of May 15, 2016. The revocation was not because of either a failure to satisfy the methodology test applied to "educational" organizations under Revenue Procedure 86-43 or for alleged political campaign intervention during the 2016 election. Instead, it was for failing to file the last three IRS annual information returns due from the organization, a failing that Spencer blamed on an IRS misclassification that led to the public listing for the group indicating it was not required to file such returns. Assuming that the Institute challenges this revocation, it will be interesting to see how the IRS responds to this argument.

Lloyd Mayer

March 16, 2017 in Federal – Executive, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bob Jones University Regains Tax-Exempt Status

BJULast month Bob Jones University announced a major reorganization that transferred its university-related activities and assets to an existing, tax-exempt organization and so effectively allowed the University to reclaim its tax-exempt status. As detailed in a USA Today report about the reorganization, with the University's decision last decade to drop its interracial dating ban and apologize for the school's past racial discrimination cleared the legal path to reclaim that status. It was not until a few years ago, however, that University leadership decided to do so, and it took a couple years to implement that decision because of the complicated reorganization route the University chose to take. One advantage of taking this route, however, was it avoided any need to seek IRS approval since it took advantage of an existing tax-exempt organization (that had primarily operated an elementary school up until now).

Lloyd Mayer

March 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could the Courts Redefine What It Means for Charities and Other Tax-Exempt Organizations to Engage in Political Activity?

There are at least two pending cases that could redefine how federal tax law defines various types of political activity for charities and other tax-exempt organizations. First, the Freedom Path v. Lerner case in the Northern District of Texas arises out of the application controversy I discussed yesterday, but also includes a challenge to the "facts and circumstances" approach used by the IRS in Revenue Ruling 2004-6 to determine what activity constitutes political campaign intervention as applied to Freedom Path's activities. While that Revenue Ruling relates to non-charitable, tax-exempt organizations, the IRS uses a similar approach with respect to charities as illustrated by Revenue Ruling 2007-41. For the latest decision in this litigation, granting in part and denying in part the government's motion to dismiss, see this May 2016 U.S. District Court opinion.

The other case is Parks Foundation v. Commissioner, and the related case of Parks v. Commissioner, which are currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. An issue at the heart of this case is how attempting to influence legislation (i.e., lobbying) is defined for purposes of the prohibition on private foundations engaging in such activity (and the related limit on lobbying by public charities). This case is notable because it has attracted an amicus brief in support of the appellants from the Alliance for Justice and the Council on Foundations, as well as attention from the James Madison Center for Free Speech, for which one of the the General Counsels is James Bopp, Jr. (who has brought many successful First Amendment cases challenging campaign finance restrictions, including Citizens United) . The Tax Court decision that is the subject of this appeal can be found here.

Of course neither case may lead to any seismic changes to the relevant definitions of political activity, but they both bear watching.

Lloyd Mayer

March 16, 2017 in Federal – Judicial | Permalink | Comments (0)

Global Philanthropy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

GlobeRecent events and news stories highlight the uncertain future of global philanthropy. On one hand, the Hudson Institute recently celebrated global philanthropy as it transferred its Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances and its Index of Philanthropy Freedom to the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and the Christian Science Monitor reported late last year that China is encouraging domestic philanthropy by its growing number of billionaires.  On the other hand, various news outlets have reported on numerous countries cracking down on foreign charities and foreign-funded domestics charities, including:

  • Hungary, where the Budapest Beacon reported earlier this year that the government is attacking allegedly "fake civil organizations," including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and Transparency International.
  • India, where the N.Y. Times reported last week that the child-sponsorship organization Compassion International is ending its support of 145,000 children in that country, joining more than 11,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have lost their licenses to accept foreign funds since 2014. According to an earlier L.A. Times story from earlier this year, those NGOs include a domestic charity that fought caste-based discrimination for decades. (The N.Y. Times also reported that U.S. officials are trying to resolve the Compassion International case through diplomatic channels.)
  • Kenya, where a watchdog group reported late last year that government authorities froze the bank accounts of a U.S. NGO carrying out an electoral assistance program ahead of this year's general elections.

Tomorrow I will do a post about my recent article addressing these trends and the limited legal options NGOs currently have for countering them.

Lloyd Mayer

March 16, 2017 in In the News, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

IRS Targets Syndicated Conservation Easement Donation Transactions

1 IRS LogoIn December 2016, the IRS issued Notice 2017-10, which states that the Treasury and the IRS are aware that promoters are syndicating conservation easement donation transactions through partnerships or other pass-through entities, and these transactions purport to give investors the opportunity to obtain charitable deductions in amounts that significantly exceed the amounts invested.

These transactions generally take the following form: investors invest in a pass-through entity that owns real property, the pass-through entity then donates a conservation easement to a tax-exempt entity and the resulting charitable deduction is allocated to the investors, and the investors rely on the pass-through entity's holding period in the underlying real property to treat the donated conservation easement as long-term capital gain property under IRC § 170(e)(1). The promoters of these transactions greatly inflate the value of the deductions that are allocated to the investors by obtaining appraisals that greatly inflate the value of the conservation easements based on unreasonable conclusions about the development potential of the underlying property.

The Notice identities the following transactions (or those substantially similar thereto) as "listed" (tax avoidance) transactions: if an investor received oral or written promotional materials that offered prospective investors in a pass-through entity the possibility of a deduction that equals or exceeds two and one-half times the investor’s investment. Participants and material advisors, including appraisers, involved in these transactions since January 2010 may be required to disclose pertinent facts about the transactions to the IRS by May 1, 2017, and may be subject to significant penalties for failing to do so. 

The Notice further provides that the IRS intends to challenge the purported tax benefits from these transactions based on the overvaluation of the conservation easements and the partnership anti-abuse rule, economic substance, and other rules or doctrines.

For purposes of the Notice, tax-exempt organizations accepting conservation easements are not treated as parties to or participants in these transactions. However, if  an organization was involved in setting up such a transaction, it may be deemed to have acted as a promoter or material advisor and should consult with its legal advisors regarding its potential obligations under the Notice.

Nancy A. McLaughlin, Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

 

March 15, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Most Litigated Issue #8: Charitable Contribution Deductions

Taxpayer Advocate ServiceIn her Annual Report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson listed charitable contribution deductions under Internal Revenue Code section 170 as number eight on her list of ten Most Litigated Issues. The topics that led to the most disputes in the 26 decisions from the June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016 twelve-month period that she reviewed were substantiation (12 cases), easements (9 cases), and valuation (5 cases), with some cases involving multiple issues. For summaries of all 26 decisions, see Appendix 3, Table 8 in the Appendices to Volume One of the report.

Lloyd Mayer

March 15, 2017 in Federal – Executive, Federal – Judicial | Permalink | Comments (0)

501(c)(4) Application Controversy - Litigation Grinds On, No Impeachment or Firing in Sight

IRSIn case we needed any reminders that litigation takes a long time, the past several months have seen a few minor developments in the litigation that grew out of the section 501(c)(4) application controversy that exploded in May 2013 (!). In no particular order:

  • The Supreme Court denied certiorari in True the Vote, Inc. v. Lois Lerner, et al., No. 16-613, and a related case, rejecting the plaintiffs' attempt to get the Bivens claims against Ms. Lerner and other IRS officials reinstated. The underlying case of True the Vote, Inc. v. IRS, et al. continues in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as Civil Action No. 13-734, without the Bivens claims and so limited to injunctive and declaratory relief, along with the related case of Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, et al., Civil Action No. 13-777, in the same court. UPDATE: I should have noted in my original post that a case raising similar claims is also proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Freedom Path, Inc. v. Lerner, Civil Action No. 3:14-CV-1537-D), although there have been no major developments in that case since a decision last May on the government's motion to dismiss.
  • A class action lawsuit continues in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, NorCal Tea Party Patriots, et al. v. IRS, et al., Civil Action No. 13-341, after the judge in the case ruled late last year that the IRS had to continue processing the application of one of the class members (the Texas Patriots Tea Party).
  • Judicial Watch announced the IRS has discovered an additional 6,924 responsive documents relating to Judicial Watch's pending FOIA lawsuit against the IRS (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 15-220); it is not clear if these documents contain any new information, and the timetable for public disclosure of the documents is uncertain.

At the same time, Republican leaders in Congress have shown no appetite for pursuing impeachment of current IRS Commissioner John Koskinen even as conservative members argue for it and the Trump administration has quietly avoided demanding Koskinen's resignation even in the face of calls to fire him. For recent coverage, see The Hill and the Washington Post. It is hard not to imagine that the Commissioner is silently counting the days until his term ends in November, however. It will also be interesting to see who will be willing to replace him in the current political environment.

Lloyd Mayer

March 15, 2017 in Federal – Executive, Federal – Judicial, Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 13, 2017

What About University & College Endowments?

HarvardLast year Congress began hammering away again at the topic of university and college endowments, sending letters to 56 private universities with endowments exceeding $1 billion about how they use that money (see, for example, this Washington Post story). Yet in in its current session the topic appears to have fallen off at the least the public legislative agenda. While this is likely in part because of the many other controversial items on that agenda, part of the explanation may also lie with the recent struggles universities and colleges have faced relating to their endowments. The most recent survey of endowment returns and spending showed both a negative return on average for the endowments at 805 institutions and increased spending for the year ended June 30, 2016, according to a Bloomberg story (see also this Washington Post story). These disappointing results in the face of increasing financial demands have led to the major restructuring of at least one endowment fund office, with Harvard University laying off half of its investment group's employees according to a Boston Globe report.

UPDATE: Harvard Gazette article regarding the endowment fund office changes (hat tip: Ellen Aprill).

Lloyd Mayer

March 13, 2017 in Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Legislation Update: ACA Repeal, Johnson Amendment, and Tax Reform

CongressCongress is attempting to advance legislation in at least three major areas that could directly impact tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.

Affordable Care Act Repeal (and Replace?)

The effort to repeal (and replace?) the Affordable Care Act would almost certainly have major effects on nonprofit health care providers, particularly hospitals, as well as likely every nonprofit that provides health insurance or health care to its employees or beneficiaries. The Nonprofit Quarterly provides a good summary of the current version of the repeal and replace legislation, including its likely effect on nonprofits. The full text of the current bill is available here.

"Johnson Amendment" Repeal or Modification

OpEds and lobbying letters continue to proliferate even as it is unclear when legislation removing or modifying the political campaign intervention prohibition for charities will advance. Pending bills include:

  • The Free Speech Fairness Act (H.R. 781 and S. 264), which would modify the prohibition so as not to apply to "any statement which (A) is made in the ordinary course of the organization's regular and customary activities in carrying out its exempt purpose, and (B) results in the organization incurring not more than de minimis incremental expenses."
  • H.R. 172, which would remove the prohibition entirely but, in an apparent oversight, only from Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) and so not from  section 170(c)(2) and other sections relating to charitable contribution deductions.

The two House bills have been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, while the Senate bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

Recently expressed views on the legislation including statements from Douglas Laycock (UVA), Edward Zelinsky (Cardozo), the Council on Foundations, a community letter campaign launched by the National Council of Nonprofits and others, a letter from 86, mostly progressive groups (including the National Council of Churches), and a published debate in U.S. News & World Report featuring Doug Bandow (Cato Institute), Alan Brownstein (U.C. Davis), Roger Colinvaux (Catholic University), Barry Lynn (Americans United for Separation of Church and State), and Matthew Schmalz (College of Holy Cross).

Tax Reform

The year began with fears that tax reform could sharply limit the availability of the charitable contribution deduction through such measures as limits on itemized deductions and estate tax repeal (see, for example, this Forbes piece). There are, however some recent indications that Congress is moving away from measures that would limit the deduction for at least income tax purposes, and even considering expanding the income tax deduction in several ways (see, for example, this report from the Council on Foundations on recent comments by members of Congress). The Trump administration  has yet to release its tax reform proposals, however, and tax reform generally is a moving target as this story from The Hill underlines.

Lloyd Mayer

March 13, 2017 in Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

FTC & NASCO Will be Hosting a Conference to Discuss Consumer Protection and Charitable Giving: March 21

The Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of State Charities Officials will be hosting a conference to bring together various stakeholders to discuss charitable solicitation and consumer protection.  It will take place all day on March 21, 2017, at the Constitution Center, 400 7th St., SW, Washington, DC 20024. From the event website:

The event will bring together leading stakeholders -- regulators, researchers, practitioners, charity watchdogs, donor advocates, and members of the nonprofit sector. Discussions will focus on consumer protection concerns in the sector, including available data on donor expectations and perceptions, deceptive fundraising practices, the regulatory and enforcement environment, and new charitable giving options...

The conference is free and the first day is open to the public. 

See you there!

@JosephWMead

 

 

March 3, 2017 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Paypal's Online Giving Platform

Yesterday, a class action lawsuit was filed against PayPal, accusing the website of redirecting donations made through its "Giving Fund" portal. 

Screenshot 2017-03-01 15.42.10
Complaint, Figure 5

The website invites users to donate to more than a million charities through their system, promising that 100% of the funds will go to the identified nonprofit.  However, the complaint alleges, if the donee nonprofit does not have a registered account set up with PayPal (and many organizations don't), the money will never reach the intended organization, and instead be redistributed to other nonprofits. 

The complaint asserts legal theories of theft, breach of fiduciary obligations, and violation of consumer protection laws.

@JosephWMead

March 1, 2017 in In the News, State – Judicial | Permalink | Comments (0)

Schizer: Subsidies and Nonprofit Governance: Comparing the Charitable Deduction with the Exemption for Endowment Income

David Schizer has posted a new working paper, entitled "Subsidies and Nonprofit Governance: Comparing the Charitable Deduction with the Exemption for Endowment Income." From the abstract:

Charitable subsidies are supposed to encourage positive externalities from charity. In principle, the government can pursue this goal by evaluating specific charitable initiatives and deciding how much each should receive. But this Article focuses on two income tax rules that leave the government very little discretion about which charities to fund: the deduction for donations to charity (“the deduction”) and the exemption of a charity’s investment income (“the exemption”). Under each rule, as long as charities satisfy very general criteria, federal dollars flow automatically. While both of these sibling subsidies delegate key decisions to private individuals, they create very different incentives and effects. This Article breaks new ground by showing their different effects on the governance of nonprofits.

Specifically, the deduction has three advantages over the exemption. First, the deduction uses a more reliable test for determining whether a charity should receive government funding: a charity has to attract donations, which means donors believe in the charity. For the exemption, by contrast, a charity has to run a surplus, which is less dependable evidence of social value. Second, the deduction empowers donors to monitor nonprofit managers, while the exemption undercuts this monitoring. Since the exemption offers tax-free returns only to charities, and not to donors, it encourages donors to turn over assets to charities (“endowment gifts”), instead of keeping these assets and making annual gifts of the investment return (“spendable gifts”). But once a donor gives an endowment to an operating charity, she cannot redirect this money to another charity, even if she later develops doubts about the charity’s mission or management. Third, in favoring endowments, the exemption exacerbates another familiar governance problem: cumbersome or stale limits on endowments.

These governance issues are an important, but largely overlooked, reason to favor the deduction over the exemption. Yet although scaling back the exemption solves one set of problems, it creates another: charities would begin making tax-motivated saving and investment decisions. In deciding how much of the subsidy for charities should be delivered through the exemption, as opposed to the deduction, Congress needs to manage this tradeoff. This Article explores various ways to do so.

-JWM

March 1, 2017 in Publications – Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hundreds of Churches Appear to Receive Exemption Determinations Using Form 1023-EZ

Today, the IRS released complete publicly available data on the over 105,000 organizations that were approved for tax-exemption using the streamlined application process, Form 1023-EZ from its inception in July 2014 through December 2016.  From the IRS news release:

The data on IRS.gov is available in spreadsheet format and includes information for approved applications beginning in mid-2014, when the 1023-EZ form was introduced, through 2016. The information will be updated quarterly, starting with the first quarter of calendar year 2017. The IRS’s Tax Exempt and Government Entities division approved more than 105,000 applications for exemption submitted on the Form 1023-EZ from 2014 through 2016.

In reviewing the data for these organizations, I noted something odd -- there was an organization approved using the streamlined process which by its name appeared to be a church.  According to the Form 1023-EZ instructions and Form 1023-EZ eligibility worksheet, churches are not eligible to use Form 1023-EZ and instead must use Form 1023 to apply for a determination letter from the IRS.  In particular, the eligibility worksheet states that if the applicant answers "yes" to any question on the worksheet, the applicant is not eligible to use Form 1023-EZ.  Question 12 on the worksheet asks, "Are you a church . . .?"  Applicants using Form 1023-EZ must attest on the form that the applicant has completed the eligibility worksheet and is eligible to use the form. 

The Form 1023-EZ is filed electronically and is composed of several self-certifying statements made by the applicant to the effect that the applicant qualifies for tax-exempt status as an organization described in Section 501(c)(3).  No supporting documentation is required to be submitted with the application so that the IRS can verify the applicant's qualification for tax-exemption.  With over 105,000 organizations approved and no way to verify the information, I was not surprised that perhaps a few organizations not eligible to file slipped through the cracks. 

However, I was curious to see just how many churches incorrectly used Form 1023-EZ to obtain an IRS determination letter.  I conducted a search of the names of all of the organizations approved for exemption using Form 1023-EZ for the word "church" using the new searchable data released by the IRS.  I found 623 of the approved organizations had "church" in the name.  Upon closer review, not all of these organizations appeared to be churches.  Some appeared to be a separately organized ministry of a church or a church foundation or an organization in a town named "Churchville." But in my cursory review of the names of these 623 organizations, I would estimate that over 90% appeared to be churches.  Some of these organizations provided website addresses, and a visit to these website addresses confirmed these organizations operated as churches.  Even though churches are not eligible to file Form 1023-EZ, all of these organizations attested that they had completed the eligibility worksheet and were eligible to use Form 1023-EZ.

Churches are not required to file an application for exemption to be exempt as a church described in Section 501(c)(3).  However, many churches opt to apply for exemption so that the church can receive an IRS determination letter stating that the church qualifies for exemption.  The IRS determination letter serves as evidence to donors that the church is recognized as being tax-exempt and contributions made to the church qualify for the charitable contribution deduction. 

The churches that received an IRS determination letter using the Form 1023-EZ process may very well meet the requirements for exemption as a church described in Section 501(c)(3).  But the IRS decided that it wanted to take a closer look at the applicants claiming to be churches, and thus requires them to use the normal Form 1023 process.  By inappropriately using the Form 1023-EZ process, these churches have gotten the benefit of voluntarily applying for tax exemption - the IRS determination letter - without having to go through the scrutiny of the normal Form 1023 application process as the IRS requires.

Additionally, this information is but one example of the problems with the streamlined Form 1023-EZ process.  A quick review of the organization's name (for example "** Baptist Church" or "** Church of Christ") should have given one pause about whether the organization was eligible to use Form 1023-EZ.  This should have resulted in an inquiry to the organization about whether it planned to operate as a church, or one could have visited the organization's website provided on the form to see that the organization had regularly scheduled church services and appeared to operate as a church.  The organization then should have been directed to apply using Form 1023. All of these organizations attested that they were eligible to use Form 1023-EZ, but a quick independent verification of this attestation likely would have shown the attestation to be false in a significant number of cases.  This is one small example of the need to independently verify the applicant's statements made on the Form 1023-EZ, or organizations which do not meet the requirements for exemption or the eligibility requirements to use Form 1023-EZ will inappropriately be approved for exemption. 

For additional examples of the need for independent verification of the information provided on Form 1023-EZ, see the Taxpayer Advocate Service 2015 Report to Congress and the Taxpayer Advocate Service 2016 Report to Congress.

 

TLH

 

 

February 22, 2017 in Current Affairs, Federal – Executive | Permalink | Comments (1)