Saturday, December 23, 2017
William A. Drennan (Southern Illinois University School of Law) has written Conspicuous Philanthropy: Reconciling Contract and Tax Laws, 66 Am. U. L. Rev. 1323 (2017). Below is Professor Drennan's abstract:
It sold for $15 million, and the IRS treated it as worthless. Avery Fisher, a titan of industry and a lover of classical music, made a generous contribution to renovate a charity’s building, and in exchange the charity agreed to name the building after Fisher in perpetuity. Forty years later, the Fisher family sold the naming rights back to the charity for $15 million in cash. The IRS treats these publicity rights as worthless when charities grant them, and this generates substantial tax benefits for the donor and the donor’s family. In contrast, the common law can treat these publicity rights as valuable consideration supporting an enforceable contract, and a charity may be liable for damages if it renames a building. Why the contradiction? What are the consequences? Should we reconcile these positions? How? This Article asserts that the common law contract approach is well-suited for today’s mega-million dollar charitable building naming rights deals, but the tax approach is outdated and inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedents.