Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When Does “Educating” Become “Lobbying?”

A recent article  by Martin Levine highlights the struggle to define the line between providing education about issues and lobbying for specific legislative outcomes. The center of the controversy revolves around a complaint filed in 2012, when the Center for Media and Democracy and the Common Cause complained to the IRS that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was incorrectly classified as a 501(c)(3) organization.

The ALEC characterizes itself as an organization “dedicated to advancing and promoting the Jeffersonian principles of limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level. ALEC accomplishes this mission by educating elected officials on making sound policy and providing them with a platform for collaboration with other elected officials and business leaders.”

The ALEC’s opponents, however, paint a different picture of the organization, claiming “the primary purpose of the organization is to provide a conduit for its corporate members and sponsors to lobby state legislators.”

As evidence of this lobbying, opponents of the ALEC point to a string of tax deductible donations from EXXON to the ALEC totaling over $1.7 million. The ALEC’s official position on climate change only leads to increased suspicions. According to the ALEC, there is no threat to the public from climate change or increased greenhouse gasses. In fact, the ALEC has stated that global warming is beneficial, claiming that “during the warming of the past 100 years global GDP has increased 18-fold, average life span has doubled, and per capita food supplies increased.”

While this information is certainly not determinative of foul play, it does provoke one to question the line between information providing and lobbying.


David Brennen

October 11, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal – Legislative, In the News, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tax-Exemption and Political Candidate Support

With the Election approaching, many are voicing their opinion on the Johnson Amendment, which denies 501(c)(3) organizations the ability to actively campaign or lobby for a political candidate. Currently, in addition to being unable to support a candidate for political office, nonprofit organizations are also unable to oppose political candidates.

Proponents of the rule fear that allowing nonprofits to advocate for candidates could create unhealthy political factions within their organizations and communities at large. A larger concern is that donations from these organizations would be tax deductible and could exacerbate the level of spending and the political power of large scale donors, heavily influencing electoral outcomes. A statement from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State exclaimed “If individual organizations came to be regarded as Democratic charities or Republican charities instead of the nonpartisan problem solvers that they are, it would diminish the public’s overall trust in the sector and thus limit the effectiveness of the nonprofit community.”

Opponents of the rule, like Republican Party Nominee Donald Trump, believe that organizations have a right to voice their opinion for leaders they believe would best represent them. In a speech to Christian leaders Trump stated “if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it.” Opponents also believe freeing 501(c)(3) organizations from these regulations would increase voter participation and elevate levels of political debate.

It is unlikely that this debate will be solved in the near-term, and certainly not in time to impact the nearing election. However, a fundamental change to the Johnson Amendment could drastically change the way campaigns are ran and financed.


David Brennen

October 10, 2016 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Executive, Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Clinton v. Trump Foundations Under the Tax Law (CNN Op Ed)

Clinton FoundationTrump FoundationI just wrote this CNN Op Ed comparing the two foundations. It begins:

Journalists and commentators across the political spectrum have subjected both the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the Donald J. Trump Foundation to a withering barrage of criticisms. Without a doubt, both foundations and their managers, including Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump, have made mistakes. The critical question, however, is whether those mistakes are illegal.

Lloyd Mayer

September 22, 2016 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Add Morgantown, West Virginia to the PILOT list

Big news from Monongalia County, West Virginia  (and I don't mean its party school ranking of number 2... ), but add West Virginia University to the list of charitable institutions making PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) payments.  WVU has done a significant amount of development in downtown Morgantown (yes, we have a downtown...) through private-public partnerships.   As a result, a good deal of private property has gone off the tax rolls in this standard issue university town. 

Of course, the issue of PILOTs has received a significant amount of discussion as of late (including on this website), as strapped state and local communities look for alternative sources of revenue.  For more information, I strongly recommend starting with the Urban Institute website, which has a number of studies on PILOT issues (many of which are authored or co-authored by Evelyn Brody.)  In that regard, this really shouldn't be much in the way of new ground... but...

Lets make a deal

(I am totally dating myself here...)

What I find interesting is that WVU is a public university.   I've been searching on the interwebz (to no avail) for more information on how many public institutions - presumably, universities and hospitals - have agreed to PILOTs.  (Anyone have any info?  I found this helpful article by Langley, Kenyon and Bailin from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, circa 2012, that has a number of appendices - a very quick review doesn't seem to show any public institutions.)   Part of the rationale for a private nonprofit to enter into a PILOT agreement and voluntarily pay not-taxes is that the alternative could be much, much worse.  If a government changes the applicable laws granting nonprofit property tax exemption, the nonprofit will have little control over what happens next, so the devil you know and negotiate is probably better than what is behind Door Number 2.  

I would think that with a public university, that calculus would be much, much different.   After all, a public university is branch of government, it seems as if it would be much more difficult to muck with the property tax exemption for the University itself - both legally and politically.  According to the press release from WVU, its 50 year payment agreement applies only to "private commercial establishments operating on University property for activities that are not a critical part of or integral to serving the academic needs of students."  Therefore, while there may be limits on the ability to change the University's tax exemption, query how much play actually exists with attacking the property tax exemption for the University's leased property?   (see section 10 versus sections 14 or 17, for example).




August 29, 2016 in Current Affairs, In the News, State – Executive | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

OneOrlando Fund to Disburse $23M

Yesterday's NonProfitTimes reported that the OneOrlando Fund has begun accepting claims from victims and families of victims of the June 12 Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 dead and dozens more injured. According to fund administrator, Kenneth Feinberg, the entirety of the fund -- estimated at $23 million -- will be disbursed. According to the OneOrlando website, to be eligible, claims must be postmarked by September 12. Claim forms can be found on the site.


Vaughn E. James

August 18, 2016 in Current Affairs, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Restructuring Coming for Wounded Warrior Project

In 2003, four men came together to form Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit 501(c) organization that offers a variety of programs, services and events for wounded veterans of the military actions following September 11, 2001. The organization's website boasts that this charity and veteran service organization "provides free programs and services focused on the physical, mental, and long-term financial well-being of this generation of injured veterans, their families and caregivers." The charity urges its supporters to donate to its causes, assuring them that their tax deductible donations enable the organization to "help thousands of injured warriors returning home from the current conflicts and to provide assistance to their families." The website goes on to state that "[a]s the number of wounded [veterans] steadily increases, it is easy to see how the needs of these brave individuals also increase."

In March, CBS News reported that while Americans were donating hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the charity, Wounded Warrior Project was spending 40 to 50 percent of these donations on overhead, including extravagant parties. By comparison, CBS News reported, other veterans charities have overhead costs of only 10 to 15 percent.

Shortly afterwards, the organization's Board of Directors fired Chief Executive Officer, Steven Nardizzi, and Chief Operating Officer, Al Giordano.

Yesterday's NonProfitTimes reported on the next step for the organization: a restructuring plan, According to the Times, details of the restructuring plan are expected to be announced next month. But some details can already be gleaned from the organization's recently-released IRS Form 990 and consolidated financial statements  for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2015. In notes to the consolidated financial statements, the organization states: 

Negative media stories in January 2016 regarding the Organization prompted inquiries and requests for documents from Senator Grassley on behalf of the Committee on the Judiciary and from other parties. The Organization responded to these inquiries and requests, and management does not believe they will have a material adverse effect on the organization’s financial position, results of operations or cash flows.

The Organization is in the process of evaluating programs and services to ensure that they are delivered with even greater efficiency, as well as assessing its organizational structure to ensure that it maximizes all resources available. Management anticipates that certain roles will be eliminated as a result of this assessment and details of the restructuring will be announced in September 2016. Management does not believe the restructuring will have a material adverse impact on the accompanying consolidated financial statements.

The Times also reports that in recent weeks, new CEO Michael Linnington, has made reference during interviews to anticipated pay and staff cuts.

September will soon be here; we shall discover then just what Wounded Warriors Project will do to recover its image, stature and standing.

Vaughn E. James  








August 17, 2016 in Current Affairs, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

College Students Taking Credit for Volunteer Work

An op-ed in last Saturday's New York Times caught my eye and has me thinking deeply. In To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti?, Frank Bruni discusses "the persistent vogue among secondary-school students for so-called service that's sometimes about little more than  a faraway adventure and a few lines or paragraphs on their applications to selective colleges."

Bruni is here discussing the growing trend among American college applicants to claim on their college applications for admission that they have done volunteer work or gone on mission trips to Central America and Africa when in reality all they have done is spent as little as a week -- if all that -- "helping to repair some village's crumbling school or library, [only] to return to their comfortable homes and quite possibly write a college-application essay about how transformed they are."  

Bruni argues that this troubling trend "turns developing-world hardship into a prose-ready opportunity for growth, empathy into an extracurricular activity." Moreover, Bruni contends that this trend

reflects a broader gaming of the admissions process that concerns [him] just as much, because of its potential to create strange habits and values in the students who go through it, telling them that success is a matter of superficial packaging and checking off the right boxes at the right time.

Like Bruni, I am appalled at this growing trend among students. I am equally appalled at the trend among church-going people who come to me asking for my help in funding their mission trips to Central and South America, Africa and the Caribbean. I question them closely about these trips. Thus far, in answer to my question, "Where will you live during your stay?", every budding missionary has responded, "In a hotel." My check book has remained closed to these wonderful missionaries.

Vaughn E. James 

August 16, 2016 in Current Affairs, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Political Conventions and Charitable Status

2016_democratic_national_convention_logo1One of the odd side stories of this crazy election season was the decision by the IRS to deny the application of the Democratic National Convention host committee for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) even though it had earlier granted the application of the Republican National Convention host committee under the same section. (Coverage: Philadelphia Inquirer.) While according to the news stories the DNC quickly had a workaround available for those donors interested in a charitable contribution deduction, the disparity in treatment was notable, particularly since the denial was apparently based on some committee activities being too political under section 501(c)(3) even though the two host committees reportedly had very similar applications. Apparently the IRS forgot its statement 10 years ago to the Campaign Finance Institute that it would monitor future host committee applications for consistent treatment (see last sentence of last bullet point).

The IRS made that statement in the context of research by the Campaign Finance Institute into the financing of the political party conventions, which focused on the 2004 and 2008 conventions. That research led CFI in 2005 to call on the IRS to revisit the tax status of host committees under either section 501(c)(3) or section 501(c)(6) in light of the apparently pervasive political activity of those committees. Perhaps inadvertently, the IRS appears to have begun that reconsideration.

(Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Academic Advisors for the Campaign Finance Institute.)

Lloyd Mayer

August 12, 2016 in Federal – Executive, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Amateur Athletes and Professional Coaches & Executives

Rio 2016 OlympicsThis week would not be complete without an Olympics-related post. Just before the opening ceremonies, the Washington Post ran a story titled "Olympic executives cash in on a 'Movement" that keeps athletes poor." It draws a sharp contrast between the actual athletes, who absent a rare endorsement deal or a sport with a lucrative professional league are generally scrounging funds from family and friends to support their training, and the employees and "volunteer" board members of the numerous national and international sports federations and Olympic Committees who often make hundreds of thousands of dollars annually or enjoy generous perks such as first-class air travel. This not to say all athletes are uncompensated; the article details the complicated baseline pay and bonus systems in place for many US athletes, but the amounts available to athletes vary enormously depending on the sport and the potential for medalling. 

Such disparities are also not unique to the Olympics. Many have pointed to the college sports system, particularly FBS football and Division 1 basketball programs, as exhibiting the same disparities between the (student) athletes, few of whom make it to the lucrative professional level, and coaches & administrators. Such disparities also exist even in youth sports, where, for example, the President & CEO of Little League Baseball Incorporated received compensation of close to $500,000 from all related entities according to the group's 2014 Form 990, although that amount seems relatively reasonable once it is acknowledged that he is responsible for running an almost $30 million a year organization (including over $8 million in broadcasting rights payments) that has over 400 employees and involves millions of children. And, as John Colombo (Illinois) has discussed in this space, both the college programs and the U.S. Olympic Committee continue to enjoy favorable tax treatment despite the increasing commerciality of their activities because of "analytical inertia" that has let the law of charities stagnant while the world moved on.

Lloyd Mayer

August 12, 2016 in In the News, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The IRS Continues to Take a Beating Even as It Implements the New 501(c)(4) Notice Requirement

IRSThe "Tea Party" application controversy continues to take a toll on the IRS, even as the Service implements the congressionally enacted notice requirement for section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. First, the IRS suffered setbacks in two of the cases pending against it that grew out of the controversy:

  • In Freedom Path, Inc. v. Lerner, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas rejected the government's motion to dismiss a First Amendment claim against the IRS, finding that the plaintiff's concerns regarding future curtailment of speech was sufficient to establish injury and that the case still presented a live controversy despite changes in the Service's processing of applications. Coverage: Bloomberg BNA Daily Tax Report.
  • In True the Vote, Inc. v. IRS and Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, decided together although argued separately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the lower court's dismissal of actions for injunctive and declaratory relief as against the government, concluding that those claims were not moot. (The appellate court did, however, affirm the lower court's dismissal of Bivens actions and statutory claims against individual government officials and the Service.) Coverage: Wall Street Journal. For blog posts discussing the opinion, see The Surly Subgroup (Philip Hackney) and The Volokh Conspiracy (Eugene Volokh).

Second, many Republicans in the House of Representatives continue to call for the impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, not satisfied with his earlier censure by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a party-line vote. (Coverage: The HillPoliticoRoll Call.) Third, new documents relating to the controversy continue to trickle out from various sources, at a minimum providing an excuse to reassert claims against the Service and its (mostly now gone) officials. For example, see this Judicial Watch press release in the wake of it gaining access to approximately 300 pages of FBI documents relating to the FBI's investigation of the controversy.

And yet life still goes on, which in this instance means implementation of the new section 506 notice requirement for section 501(c)(4) organizations. That implementation has taken the form of Revenue Procedure 2016-41 and related final and temporary regulations (T.D. 9775). These documents detail how the notice requirement applies both to new section 501(c)(4) organizations formed after December 18, 2015 (the date of enactment for section 506) and to previously existing section 501(c)(4) organizations that had not yet either filed an application for recognition of exemption or an annual return. The required form is Form 8976, which can be submitted electronically here.

Lloyd Mayer

August 11, 2016 in Federal – Executive, Federal – Judicial, Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Charities & the Risk of Supporting Terrorism: One Step Forward, One Step Back

FATFSince 9/11 the relationships between charities and government anti-terrorism agencies have been strained, with government officials wary that the cross-border movements of money and people that many charities facilitate were vulnerable to being used as vehicles for the support of terrorist activity. Charities have responded with efforts to both tighten controls over such movements and to educate government officials regarding how charities can and do minimize the risk of such diversions. Earlier this summer those efforts bore fruit with the decision by the global Financial Action Task Force to change its guidance regarding charities (known as Recommendation Eight) to clarify that they are not inherently at risk of terrorist abuse, as reported by Third Sector (UK). The revised Recommendation Eight now reads:

Countries should review the adequacy of laws and regulations that relate to non-profit organisations which the country has identified as being vulnerable to terrorist financing abuse. Countries should apply focused and proportionate measures, in line with the risk-based approach, to such non-profit organisations to protect them from terrorist financing abuse, including:

    (a) by terrorist organisations posing as legitimate entities;

    (b) by exploiting legitimate entities as conduits for terrorist financing, including for the purpose of escaping asset-freezing measures; and

    (c) by concealing or obscuring the clandestine diversion of funds intended for legitimate purposes to terrorist organisations.

Unfortunately, just last week the news broke that Israel has charged the manager of World Vision's Gaza branch with infiltrating the charity on behalf of Hamas and diverting tens of millions of dollars to Hamas' military wing. (Coverage: NPRNY Times; Washington Post/AP.) While Israeli officials emphasized that there was no evidence that World Vision was aware of the diversion, and World Vision is still reviewing the charges and the evidence supporting them and has expressed skepticism about the alleged amount at issue, the situation casts a cloud over the international work of the well-known charity.

Lloyd Mayer

August 11, 2016 in In the News, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Election 2016: Nonprofit Spending to Date; and Clinton, Trump, and the Perils of Personal Philanthropy for Politicians

Clinton FoundationTrump FoundationLost a bit in the continual "he/she said what?!?" news stories is the continued steady spending by nonprofits to influence this year's elections. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that spending by outside groups (groups other than candidates or party committees) reported to the Federal Election Commission is already approaching $600 million and so is on pace to more than double the level of such spending in the 2011-12 cycle. While the overall amounts are still relatively modest compared to aggregate candidate and party spending, at least for federal offices, that spending is more significant than the proportion of total spending suggests for several reasons.

One reason is that unlike candidates and to some degree political parties, nonprofits can concentrate their spending on a relatively few, close races, sometimes even allowing them to spend more in those races than the candidates and parties. Another reason is a small portion of those reported funds - about $50 million to date - are from groups that do not disclose their donors and so the public cannot learn the original sources of those funds (this is the so-called "dark money"). A third reason is that this figures reflect only spending that groups are required by law to report to the FEC; there are many expenditures that relate to federal elections but are not reached by federal election law, as well as of course much spending aimed at state and local races (see the National Institute on Money in State Politics for data on the latter). It is therefore clear that absent some significant legal changes political spending by nonprofits is not going away anytime soon, although some states are enhancing state-level required disclosure of political spending. See, for example, the recent Delawareonline report on a federal appellate court decision upholding Delaware's expansive Elections Disclosure Act against constitutional challenge, the expansive New York lobbying bill awaiting the governor's signature (see TimesUnion article), and the recent paper by Linda Sugin (Fordham) titled "Politics, Disclosure, and State Law Solutions for 501(c)(4) Organizations," 91 Chicago-Kent Law Review (forthcoming 2016).

But lest nonprofit legal practitioners and scholars become bored with this "just more of the same political spending," this year's election has also given us a host of allegations of wrongdoing relating to the philanthropic activities of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. For those trying to keep score, here is a brief summary of where things stand (for previous recent coverage, see previous posts relating to charitable "gifts," possible private benefit, and possible support of the presidential campaign):

  • Clinton Foundation:  Alleged conflicts of interest while Clinton was Secretary of State (see this week's NY Times story for the latest); a (almost certainly routine) IRS referral of GOP lawmaker allegations of public corruption to an audit group (see this Politico story); and a possible FBI probe (according to The Hill). For a detailed consideration under federal tax law of the accusations raised by the GOP lawmaker, see the July and August blog posts by Philip Hackney (LSU) (spoiler alert: he concludes that even if the alleged facts are taken as true they simply do not rise to a level that could plausibly threaten the Foundation's tax-exempt status).

It remains to be seen how these various allegations shake out, but they underline the fact that politicians and potential politicians who engage in personal philanthropy risk having those philanthropic activities haunt them on the campaign trail.

And one last question: what will happen to their respective foundations if either candidate is elected President? To date, neither campaign has said, although Bill Clinton has publicly acknowledged the issue.

Lloyd Mayer

August 10, 2016 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Think Tanks and Their Donors, or How to Get Unbiased Public Policy Research

Think TanksThe NY Times is running a series of articles on the influence donors, particularly large corporations, appear to have over research conducted by some prominent think tanks. As its front page articles on August 8th and August 9th detail, many researchers associated with think tanks are paid consultants or lobbyists for corporate clients, and many think tanks also receive contributions directly from corporations that have an interest in the research the think tank is conducting. Some of the think tanks identified have either admitted to lapses in oversight or adopted more stringent conflict of interest and disclosure policies, but it is not clear how widespread such admissions or changes are within the think tank community.

While in theory reaching research conclusions that are helpful to donors or clients could constitute providing prohibited private benefit on the part of the think tanks, which are generally tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), the connections detailed in the articles seem too tenuous to support such a claim. This is especially true given both that proving a solid link between a donation and research results is difficult and that the think tanks identified generally engage in a broad range of research projects, only a small portion of which may be tainted by donor influence. Similarly, while some think tanks then arrange for meetings or conferences centering on their research and attended by government policy makers that might constitute lobbying for federal tax purposes, most such events likely fall outside of the technical definition of lobbying and the few that may not are almost certainly within the limited amount of lobbying permitted for tax-exempt charitable organizations such as think tanks.

Nevertheless, the stories are troubling because they throw into question the ability of government policymakers to rely on such research, as noted by Senator Elizabeth Warren in a video the NY Times posted with these stories. In its regular Room for the Debate feature, the NY Times therefore invited a number of commentators to suggest possible ways to address the concerns raised in its stories. Suggestions ranged from greater transparency about possible conflicts (including a certification process), better internal procedures to ensure unbiased research results, greater skepticism regarding those results on the part of journalists and others who report or rely on those results, and a diversification of funding sources (including ensuring various governmental funding sources) to support such research. I frankly am skeptical of transparency, certification, and internal procedure improvement if only because it may be too difficult for busy lawmakers, much less journalists and other members of the public, to shift through various disclosures or to determine what certification schemes or particular think tanks are reliable. I believe the diversification of funding sources idea has more promise, particularly if there are (nonpartisan) ways for government agencies to provide such funding conditioned on accurate, unbiased results. Bottom line, this strikes me as not a narrow federal tax issue but a larger issue about how to incentivize truth telling in public policy research.

Lloyd Mayer


August 10, 2016 in Federal – Executive, Federal – Legislative, In the News, State – Executive, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0)

Massachusetts Rejects imposing Property Taxes on Property Acquired by Nonprofits

Mass State SEalFollowing up on David Brennan's previous blog post and thanks to a comment from a reader, I can now report that a conference committee of the Massachusetts legislature removed the provision in a pending economic development bill that would have kept property acquired by nonprofits on the property tax rolls for four years if the property had been taxable before the nonprofit's acquisition. The provision at issue in what was then Bill H.4483 read as follows:

SECTION 127. Chapter 59 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 2D the following section:-

2E. Any charitable organization or educational institution otherwise exempt from the payment of property taxes pursuant to section 5 of chapter 59, or any nonprofit charitable corporation or public charity otherwise exempt from the payment of property taxes, that purchases real property that was subject to taxation under said chapter 59 at the time of the purchase, shall pay property taxes on the assessed value of said property for a period of 4 years after the purchase, the amount of said property taxes paid to be phased out as follows: in the first year, 100 per cent of the property tax; in the second year, 75 per cent of the property tax; in the third year, 50 per cent of the property tax; and in the fourth year, 25 per cent of the property tax.

In the final bill, renumbered as Bill H.4569 and currently pending before the governor, this section has been deleted.

Lloyd Mayer

August 10, 2016 in In the News, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Critics Want Wealthy Schools to Stop Hording Endowments.

Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports that two private colleges alone in Minnesota have combined endowments of over $1.5 billion. This seems wonderful in a time where education budgets are on the chopping block. However, critics of the colleges and universities contend the institutions need to be less scrooge-like and spread the wealth to meet the financial needs of their students. “Private foundations with nonprofit status must spend five percent of their fund’s value each year under federal law.” But, this requirement does not apply to colleges and universities.

As of 2013, there were 138 educational institutions with over $500 million in endowment. A study of 67 private schools revealed that just over half of those schools did not meet the 5 percent mark required by other nonprofits. With an estimated 40 percent of college students receiving Pell grants, it is clear that there remains unmet financial needs for students.

An official from one of the colleges studied said “it’s unfair to expect colleges to spend their endowments at the same rate as charitable nonprofits. If a college’s endowment earns 7 percent but they spend 5 percent, it won’t grow fast enough to keep up with inflation.”

Time will tell if the Legislature will require colleges and universities to meet the five percent mark as their nonprofit peers must. With the rising cost of education, one can assume debate will arise sooner than later.

David Brennen

August 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal – Legislative, In the News, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

D.C. Debating Property Tax Laws

A recent post on Non Profit Quarterly by Ruth McCambridge explains tensions between nonprofits in big cities (Such as D.C. in this article) and the legislature. In Washington D.C., nonprofits occupy over $10 billion worth of real estate, which could generate over $111 million per year in tax revenue. Instead, the district collects nothing from them.

Two universities in the district alone account for $48 million in uncollectable property tax revenue. The District is considering the idea of making a change requiring payments in PILOT form, but has been pondering this idea for nearly fifty years.

Undoubtedly, these institutions bring an immense amount of revenue to the District, through research, attracted talent, and general expenditures by students and faculty. However, it is not clear if these benefits outweigh the costs of not receiving property taxes.

It is estimated that currently 28 different states have municipalities that collect PILOT payments; however these payments amount to far less than what the property taxes would have been worth.

It will be interesting to see if the legislature changes the current set up. Between the federally owned tax-exempt buildings, and those occupied by nonprofits, the district is missing out on over one billion dollars of tax revenue.

David Brennen

August 4, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal – Legislative, In the News, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

California Blood Bank Faces Uncertainties

A recent development in California leaves the status of a local non-profit blood bank in question. However, Hemopet is not your typical blood bank, it is a blood bank for animals. Founded in 1986, Hemopet was the nation’s first 501(c)(3) non-profit blood bank and quickly grew to national scale. Currently, Hemopet supplies 40% of the nation’s emergency canine blood, and saves the lives of thousands of dogs each year.

In 1965, a law was enacted that exempted blood banks from taxation. Unfortunately, animal blood banks were not around at the time. A recent audit by state officials led to the conclusion that Hemopet should not be considered tax exempt, and that they owed over $80,000 in unpaid taxes. A bill is set to be presented to the California Assembly Committee on Appropriations on August 3rd that will clear up the status of the non-profit. Dr. Jean Dodds, president and founder of Hemopet, believes that if the bill passes requiring Hemopet to pay the $80,000 they will be forced to shut down. In addition to the potential shortage on emergency canine blood, closing Hemopet would leave over 200 Greyhounds homeless and 45 people would lose their jobs.

Hemopet officials are encouraging Californians to contact the Assembly Committee on Appropriations to voice their support for the organization.


David Brennen

August 2, 2016 in Current Affairs, In the News, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Massachusetts Contemplating Change in Non-Profit Property Tax

Proposed legislation in Massachusetts would potentially shake-up the current state of their local non-profits. The proposal would make it necessary for current non-profits to begin paying property taxes, and continue to do so for the next four years (churches and houses of worship remain exempt). Currently, non-profit organizations are exempted from paying property tax, but occupy more than 13 percent of taxable property within the state. The proposal is a small part of an overall economic stimulus plan that seeks to provide over $700 million in assistance throughout the state.

Proponents of the legislation argue that aggressive land purchases by larger non-profits make it more difficult for smaller entities to find land. They also believe exempting the non-profits ultimately raises property taxes for others in the community. Opponents believe that taxing non-profits will make it necessary for them to cut back on their services provided, and could lead to employees being laid off. This could have a wide impact, as non-profit jobs are an estimated 17 percent of the state’s workforce (approximately 500,000 jobs), and pay more than $30 billion in wages.

Although both sides present compelling arguments, it is imperative for policy makers to thoroughly analyze the true impacts of their decisions. It will be interesting to see what how the good people of Massachusetts respond to this proposal.

David Brennen

July 31, 2016 in Current Affairs, In the News, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

501(c)(3) Organizations & the Ban on "Intervening" with Political Campaigns

A recent post by Benjamin Leff on The Surly Subgroup highlights the 50+ year ban on 501(c)(3) organizations (here, specifically churches) “intervening” in a campaign for public office. Arguments for and against the ban range from an infringement of free speech, to churches using their power to distort the electoral process. However, the main issue discussed is that although churches want to get in to court to challenge the ban, they believe the IRS won’t let them. For a compelling read on how these organizations may be granted their “day in court” and some possible reform suggestions, read the above linked post.

David Brennen

July 28, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal – Legislative, In the News, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Senate Finance Scrutiny of Private Museums Continues

According to this Chronicle of Philanthropy article (citing arts newsletter Hyperallergic), Senate Finance Committee Chair is continuing his scrutiny of private museums, now by requesting clarification from the IRS regarding its stance on private museums.    You may recall that last fall, Senator Hatch sent a letter of inquiry to a number of private museums, requesting details regarding the museum's operation - fellow blogger Nickolas Mirkay detailed those letters here.   Hyperallergic indicated that one of Hatch's primary concerns was the public availability of collections  (including limited hours and advance reservations)  and the continuing role of donor of the art collection in the management of the museums.   Much of this scrutiny may stem from a series of New York Times articles regarding private museums, including here and here.

Inquiries of this type bother me somewhat.   It seems to me that current law regarding private benefit is probably sufficient to handle many of the perceived abuses (maybe it's an enforcement issue - just throwin' it out there).   The drumbeat of the articles and the Senate inquiry may lead to additional regulation - and I suspect they will use a mallet rather than a surgical instrument to deal with the issue, if history is any guide.



June 6, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal – Executive, Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)