Sunday, March 22, 2015
David J. Herzig (Valparaiso) and Samuel D. Brunson (Loyola Chicago) have written the Slate article Subsidized Injustice: Racist Fraternities and Sororities Should Have Their Tax-Exempt Status Revoked. Drawing on the Supreme Court's 1983 decision in Bob Jones University v. United States, they make the following suggestion:
How can the tax law operate, then, to effect structural change? It can dangle the carrot of their tax exemption in front of them while, at the same time, threatening them with its loss if they do not eliminate discriminatory behavior. We would propose that the IRS begin sending letters to all Greek organizations putting them on notice that if they discriminate, their tax-exempt status will be revoked. They can retain their tax exemption if they demonstrate that they do not discriminate based on race. This provides Greek organizations with a choice. If they are willing to comply with the norms of society, then they can enjoy the benefit of their tax exemption. If they do not wish to conform, they can explicitly signal that desire by forgoing the public subsidy implicit in being exempt from taxation.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
The Urban Institute's National Center for Charitable Statistics reported last month that its e-filing systems had been compromised by apparent hackers. The Center's website provides the following Security Alert:
Unauthorized parties have gained access to the Form 990 Online and e-Postcard Systems. If you are a user of either of these sites, we encourage you to reset your password immediately. Please click here for details and answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
e-Postcard users (if you file Form 990-N) please click here to reset your password.
Form 990 Online users click here to reset your password.
If you have not changed your password since the unauthorized access, the system will require you to change it when you log in.
According to a report in The Hill, improper access appears to have been limited to usernames, passwords, IP addresses, and other account data for nonprofits, with no evidence that the tax filings made through this system were compromised. The system does not have more sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers or credit card information, so no such data was at risk. The system is, however, used by between 600,000 and 700,000 organizations.
The Boston Globe reports that the almost 50-year old Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College will close with the retirement of its long-time director Paul Schervish and associate director John Havens. The exact closure date will depend on the pace of current research projects, but could come as early as this summer. According to the Center's website, the Center's research has focused on "the relation between economic wherewithal and philanthropy, the motivations for charitable involvement, and the underlying meaning and practice of care."
The Boston Globe reports that Gordon College's planned sale of a number of rare books in order to finance the preservation of the rest of the collection has run into a buzz saw of criticism, in part because it appears the original donor conditioned the gift on the collection remaining together. While the original gift bequest has apparently been lost, later documents indicate and the recollection of the donor's descendants confirm this condition on the gift. On its website, the College provides more details about the controversy and indicates it is still planning to go ahead with the sale. Given that the donor's heirs likely lack standing to challenge the planned sale, it remains to be seen whether the Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's office chooses to get involved.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
The Los Angeles Times reports that a proposed plan for a for-profit company to buy six struggling nonprofit hospitals has collapsed. As detailed in the article, the buyer, Prime Healthcare Services, is blaming California Attorney General Kamala Harris for imposing "impossible" conditions on the purchase, while the AG claims the buyer previously indicated it was fine with the conditions. Those conditions on the proposed $843 million sale included requiring the buyer to keep five of the hospitals open for at least 10 years, maintaining the same level of charity care as before the purchase, and apparently numerous other requirements described in a 78-page document. Regardless of whom is to blame, the Daughters of Charity Health System that owns the hospitals is now saying "[e]very option is on the table, including bankruptcy" given that the System is losing $10 million per month. Before the deal collapsed the System filed a lawsuit against a major union and a private equity firm for allegedly interfering in the sale agreement, according to the San Francisco Business Times.
As often reported here, an increasing number of states and localities are challenging the property and other tax exemptions of nonprofits within their jurisdictions. Some of the most notable recent developments have been in Maine, where the governor's budget proposal includes a tax on "large" nonprofit organizations in the state, and Pennsylvania, where a state constitutional amendment that would shift control over the standard for exemption to the state legislature is working its way through the amendment process. Along these lines, the Stateline news project of the Pew Charitable Trusts recently published a article titled "Should Nonprofits Have to Pay Taxes?" that provides an overview of recent developments in this area. Besides discussing the the situations in Maine and Pennsylvania, it also discusses developments in Ohio, Vermont, and New York, as well as providing a chart showing the number of federally tax-exempt nonprofits in each state and their assets. Of course those assets include both assets on which the owning nonprofit does pay tax (because no available exemption applies) and also assets that are not subject to property or similar state and local taxes regardless of what type of entity owns them (e.g., investment assets).
The Los Angeles Times has just published two articles highlighting the State of California Franchise Tax Board's decision to revoke the state tax exemption previously enjoyed by Blue Shield of California seven months ago, but to only announce the fact by including the huge health insurer's legal name (California Physicians Service) in a thousand plus page document on its website listing hundreds of organizations that had also lost their exemption. Here are links to the articles:
The articles report that the revocation came after a lengthy audit, and that Blue Shield is protesting the decision. On the line are tens of millions in state taxes annually. The articles also summarize past criticisms of Blue Shield with respect to executive compensation, multi-billion dollar reserves, increasing premiums, and an alleged failure to serve the state's poorest residents. Blue Shield for its part points to capping its profits at 2% of annual revenues, hundreds of millions give to its charitable foundation over the past decade, and hundreds of millions give back to customers and consumer groups in recent years. It also has reiterated its intention to remain a California mutual benefit nonprofit corporation.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
WalletHub is calling on the public to vote for the Best Tax Blogs of 2015 from among the 50 finalists chosen by its editors, including the Nonprofit Tax Prof Blog. If you find this blog informative or otherwise helpful, we urge you to go to the voting website and vote for this blog (as well for other tax blogs you enjoy).
501(c)(4) Update: Handful of Applications Still Pending, Do Lost Emails = A Crime?, and (Another) Court Dismisses Claims Against Lerner
IRC Section 501(c)(4) Applications: The IRS reported that as of last month it had closed 138 or 95% of the 145 organizations that had applied for recognition of exemption under section 501(c)(4) and were eligible for optional expedited processing because the only issues their applications raised were possible involvement in political campaign intervention or providing private benefit to a political party. The optional expedited process results in a favorable determination letter if the applicant represents that it devotes (1) 60 percent or more of both spending and time to activities that promote social welfare and (2) 40 percent or less of both spending and time to political campaign intervention. Of the 106 favorable determination letters issued by the IRS, 43 were the result of applicants choosing this process. Nevertheless a handful of such applications are still pending, including the application for Crossroads GPS and also several much smaller "mom-and-pop outfits," according to Politico.
Lost Emails: Politico also reports that in response to questioning from members of Congress a representative of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration told a congressional Committee that TIGTA's ongoing search for IRS emails has revealed "potential criminal activity" in that the IRS failed to initially disclose some backup tapes and that other tapes were erased. The TIGTA representatives emphasized, however, that the investigation was still ongoing and it was too soon to determine if the actions were purposeful or the result of ill intent. A video of the full hearing is available here.
Federal Court Dismisses Claims Against Lerner: In a decision issued late last month, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Dallas Division) dismissed claims brought by Freedom Path, Inc. against Lois Lerner without prejudice for lack of personal jurisdiction. The claims arose out of the IRS's alleged mishandling of Freedom Path's application for recognition of exemption under IRC section 501(c)(4). The court found that the group's allegations did not demonstrate sufficient contacts with the state of Texas to grant the court personal jurisdiction over Lerner. The court also rejected several of the group's claims against the IRS and unnamed federal officials, including claims that challenged the constitutionality of two revenue rulings relating to political activity (2004-6 and 2007-41), finding the group had not pled sufficient facts to establish standing to challenge those rulings, and two other claims (for other deficiencies). The court did, however, give the group 28 days to file an amended complaint although it felt that the defects in some of the dismissed claims appeared to be incurable.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Third Circuit Affirms Multi-Million Damage Awards for Breach of Fiduciary Duties and Deepening Insolvency
Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed (for the most part) a multi-million jury damages award against the former officers and directors of the Lemington Home for the Aged. The Home entered bankruptcy in 2005, and the Bankruptcy Court later that same year granted the request of the Committee of Unsecured Creditors to file suit against the former Chief Executive Officer, the former Chief Financial Officer, and the former directors of the Home. After trial, a jury concluded that the two former officers had breached their duties of both care and loyalty, that the former directors had breached their duty of care, and that all of the defendants had deepened the insolvency of the Home by concealing the board's decision to close the Home and so defrauded the Home's creditors. The court therefore affirmed an award of $2,250,000 in compensatory damages against all but two of the defendants (jointly and severally) and punitive damages against the former CEO and CFO in the amounts of $1 million and #$750,000, respectively, rejecting only the award of $350,000 in punitive damages against five of the former directors.
The appellate court found that facts supporting the jury's verdict include repeated failures to comply with applicable federal and state regulations, the failure of the CEO to work full-time at the Home despite collecting her full salary and a state law requiring that she be full-time, and the failure of the CFO to provide a representative of a major creditor with basic financial information, to keep a general ledger for almost a year, and to bill Medicare for $500,000 owed. The court also found that the directors had failed to remove the CEO and CFO despite being aware of many of their failings, and the Home's failings, in part through independent reports documenting those failings.
This case therefore presents a rare but unfortunately actual case study in how officers and directors can fail to fulfill their fiduciary duties, and the liabilities they can incur as a result.
The City of Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle, sought to prohibit solicitation activities between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. The nonprofit United States Mission Corporation (doing business as United States Mission) objected because it desired to have the participants in its transition program for homeless people solicit contributions on weekday evenings until 8:00 p.m. The dispute eventually made its way to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, which has now granted a preliminary injunction to United States Mission barring enforcement of the 7:00 p.m. curfew on solicitation. The court concluded that the ordinance as written was content-based because it only reaches individuals or organizations that ask for donations or contributions, but not non-commercial organizations that do not ask for funds, and so is subject to strict scrutiny review under the First Amendment. Given that there were other, less restrictive ways to address the City's concerns regarding possible crime and protecting residential privacy, the court found a substantial likelihood that United States Mission would succeed on the merits and also that the other requirements for granting a preliminary injunction had been met.
The case demonstrates the difficult line that not only states, which presumably have relatively deep legal resources on which to draw, but also localities that may lack ready access to First Amendment legal counsel, have to walk to ensure that their attempts to regulate charitable solicitation efforts do not run afoul of the Constitution. Ironically, the ordinance at issue in the case was a newly-enacted one, adopted to replace an earlier ordinance that had been enjoined since 2001, presumably also on First Amendment grounds. Maybe the third try will be the charm.
Additional coverage: Mercer Island Reporter.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Tax Analysts reports (subscription required) that the IRS has deciding to stop automatically providing the media with copies of favorable determination letters issued in response to applications for recognition of exemption because of the changes in the structure and geographic location of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division and related IRS Office of Chief Counsel functions. Practitioners quoted in the article expressed disappointment with this decision. While the media and other members of the public can still request such letters by submitting Form 4506-A for each organization for which the letter is sought, practitioners noted the burden doing so imposes and the usually lengthy delay in the IRS response to such requests.
Additional coverage: Forbes (contributor opinion).
UPDATE: To clarify, the letters were previously provided by the IRS National Office and so were limited to the relatively few letters issued by that office, as opposed to the Cincinnati office that issues the vast majority of determination letters. That said, the National Office tended to handle the most difficult - and interesting - cases. According to later comments from the IRS, the change is apparently driven by the fact that the National Office will no longer be issuing determination letters.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that ten individuals using technology to improve the world will be honored tonight at the Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference. The awards honor the late Dewey Wineburne, a co-founder of SXSW Interactive, who had deep interests in education and technology.
According to the Chronicle:
This year’s honorees, selected by a panel of previous winners who live in Austin, represent five countries and a range of interests, including literacy, economic opportunity, and journalism. Each will receive $1,000 for the charity of their choice.
Among the honorees are:
- Rebecca McDonald of Australia who, after seeing footage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, quit her job in Australia and moved with her husband to the Caribbean country where she founded Library for All, an online digital library accessible using tablets distributed to schools across Haiti. Books are carefully selected to be culturally relevant and language-appropriate, with most written in French or Creole. The organization pays local publishers for texts and asks larger companies, which do not usually sell books to Haiti, to donate books.
- Jukay Hsu, a native of Queens, New York, who founded Coalition for Queens, a nonprofit designed, according to Mr. Hsu, to foster "a more inclusive tech ecosystem" and "pioneer a pathway from poverty to the middle class." The organization's keystone program, Access Code, trains people — many of them immigrants — to create mobile applications and prepare for entry-level developer jobs. So far, the average income of participants going into the program has been $26,000, while their average income after completion is $73,000.
- Libby Powell, of London, England, who has used her training as a journalist to found Radar, a communications-rights organization that trains citizen reporters and promotes the stories they tell through social media and other ways online. Based in the United Kingdom, the staff offers editorial guidance to local correspondents who report from the field. The group has generated coverage about elections and Ebola in Sierra Leone and slavery in India and is working on new projects that give voice to people living with dementia and those who are homeless. Created with money raised through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, Radar works to raise awareness among the public, policy makers, and service providers about issues affecting marginalized groups. The organization has helped place articles in The Guardian and the BBC.
- Tembinkosi Qondela, of Cape Town, South Africa, who founded Whizz ICT Centre, an organization that seeks to facilitate the use of information communication technology (ICT) tools for development efforts of the community in Khayelitsha, one of the largest and poorest areas of Cape Town, South Africa. Mr. Qondela observed that marginalization of poor people in the use of ICT and the lack of access to information perpetuates the inequalities and poverty that face most young South Africans. Whizz ICT runs a center which gives young people access to computer training, other ICT related services and training in a range of income generating skills. To date Whizz ICT has provided training to over 1000 youth.
The names and brief profiles of the other six honorees are available on SXSW's website. We congratulate them all.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Study Finds Combination of Employment and Income Policies, New Tax Credit, Could Cut NYC Poverty Rate
I just came across this 116-page report commissioned by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and the UJA-Federation of New York titled How Much Could Policy Changes Reduce Poverty in New York City? The report was actually prepared by the Urban Institute. According to the report, a combination of employment and income policies, in-kind benefits, and a new tax credit could significantly reduce the poverty rate in New York City, where 20 percent of all residents currently live in poverty.
Giving a summary of the report, the Philanthropy News Digest states that
the report . . . analyzed the potential impact of a transitional jobs program, increased earnings supplements, a $15/hour minimum wage, increased Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, more housing vouchers, guaranteed childcare subsidies, and a tax credit for non-working seniors and people with disabilities. Among the individual policy options, the study found the jobs program likely to be most effective (assuming that 50 percent of the unemployed living under the poverty line participate), reducing the poverty rate from 21.4 percent to an estimated 15.9 percent, followed by the tax credit for seniors and people with disabilities, a $15/hour minimum wage, and increased SNAP benefits.
The combined effect of multiple policy options, however, would be far greater, the report argues. Based on an analysis of three scenarios, the study found that even the least extensive combination — increased SNAP benefits, Earned Income Tax Credit, and childcare benefits; the tax credit for non-working seniors and people with disabilities; and 25 percent participation in the transitional jobs program at $9/hour but no change in the minimum wage or housing subsidies — would nearly halve the city's poverty rate to 12.1 percent. In the scenario with the most extensive combination of policy options, including 50 percent participation in the jobs program at a minimum wage of $15/hour, Paycheck Plus earning supplements, and housing vouchers for half the people on the waiting list, the poverty rate would fall by more than two-thirds, to 6.7 percent.
The study also found that the most effective individual policies, the jobs program and the tax credit, were the most expensive, and that total costs for the combination of policy options was estimated to range from $6.5 billion to $9.1 billion. While the costs are substantial, the report concludes, the analysis shows "that a package of policies can greatly reduce the number of people living in poverty," with potential long-term effects "that differ from those in the short run, especially if less near-term poverty helps more of today’s children avoid poverty in adulthood."
Monday, March 9, 2015
I have always found it troubling when people donate to charity but the donees receive a very small share of the donation. And yesterday's Orange County Register published a story about such a practice, a story that made me see, well, not orange, but red. According to the Register, in 2013, the for profit firms that raise money for charities collected $361.3 million from well-meaning Californians and pocketed $161.2 million, or 45.4 percent, of the take, this according to the latest figures from the Office of the Attorney General. Incidentally, those figures were better than those for 2012, when the for-profit firms pocketed 63 percent of the money raised in nonprofits' names.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has bemoaned "the alarming extent to which charitable donations are often diverted to for-profit companies." However, Assemblywoman Jaqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, noted that at least the trend seems to be going in the right direction (i.e., from 63 percent last year to 45.4 percent this year). Meanwhile, here's an interesting statistic: "generally speaking, charities with the words 'police' or 'firefighter' in their names kept less than one-third of what was raised on their behalf, with the overwhelming majority going to the for-profit fundraiser," reports the Register.
The Register continues:
In their defense, officials said some campaigns costing millions were strategic investments that will pay off far more than they cost, in future contributions.
Others, however, are run-of-the-mill, we-need-your-money-now-please affairs, where for-profit firms kept huge chunks of what donors believed would fund good works.
Charities often argue that it’s not really money out of their pockets, since professional fundraisers take a percentage of proceeds, or a pre-determined amount if a minimum is not met, said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog.
“However, from a donor’s perspective, that argument does not hold, since it is actually the donor’s money that is going to a professional fundraiser as opposed to the charity they thought they were supporting,” Miniutti said by email. “In large part, it is still professional companies taking advantage of the lack of education on the giving public’s part.”
And that’s why the Attorney General’s Office started gathering these numbers to begin with.
Well, I hope the Attorney General's Office can use these numbers to do something to change this sad situation.
OK; I'll admit it: my heart is breaking as I write this blog. I was Orange before I stepped foot on the SU campus, remained Orange while I was a student there, and am still Orange. And now my Orange pride has taken a hit. All weekend long I've been hanging my head in shame as the TV stations have kept repeating the news over and over: "The NCAA suspended Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim on Friday for nine Atlantic Coast Conference games and took away scholarships after a lengthy investigation of the school's athletic programs."
I've been trying to figure out just what happened. What did Boeheim and my alma mater do? I'll let Reuters tell the story:
Syracuse discovered and self-reported 10 violations, over an eight-year period dating to 2001, that primarily involved men’s basketball but also football, the NCAA Committee on Infractions said.
Those infractions included academic misconduct, extra benefits, failure to follow the school's drug testing policy and impermissible booster activity.
"Over the course of a decade, Syracuse University did not control and monitor its athletics programs," the committee said in a statement, "and its head men's basketball coach failed to monitor his program."
Boeheim's suspension will cover the first nine ACC games of the 2015-2016 season.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association's penalties include five years' probation, financial penalties, and a reduction of three men’s basketball scholarships per year through 2018-19.
Also Syracuse will vacate all wins in which ineligible men's basketball students played in 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2010-11 and 2011-12 and all wins in which ineligible football students played in 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Boeheim, a Hall of Famer who has been the Syracuse head coach since 1976, won 135 games in those five seasons and 108 of those wins will be wiped out.
Say what? One hundred and eight wins erased? Treated like losses? How is that possible? Well, I guess the games are being forfeited after they were played and won! And in addition to that, Syracuse must return to the NCAA all money it received through the former Big East Conference for its appearances in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
I'll be honest: I find these sanctions harsh -- and not only because Syracuse is my alma mater. These sanctions are saying to me, "Let us pretend that Syracuse did not play basketball in 2011, 2012 and 2013." That doesn't make much sense.
On the other hand, I find one sentence of the report of the NCAA Committee on Infractions troubling:
- Two staff members completed course work for an academically ineligible student "when the school was under investigation for other potential violations."
I have a problem with that. That was dishonest. It was wrong.
Not surprisingly, Chancellor Kent Syverud is not amused. According to the Chancellor, "Syracuse University did not and does not agree with all the conclusions reached by the NCAA, including some of the findings and penalties included in [the] report. However, we take the report and the issues it identifies very seriously, particularly those that involve academic integrity and the overall well-being of student-athletes."
There is much talk about an appeal by Boeheim and an appeal by Syracuse. I guess this is not over. Stayed tuned for the next installment.
Philanthropy News Digest reports that L'Oreal Paris has announced a Call for Nominations for the 2015 L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth awards, an annual program designed to honor women making a "beautiful difference" in the world through voluntarism.
According to the Digest,
Since 2006, the program, in partnership with Points of Light, has recognized eighty inspiring women who have selflessly devoted themselves to causes at the local and national level and motivated others to get involved. Past honorees have been involved in a range of important causes, from advocating for victims of childhood abuse and mentoring homeless children, to helping break the cycle of poverty and empowering teens with disabilities.
As regards the current Call for Nominations, the Digest states that this year, "ten women will be awarded $10,000 each and one woman will be named the national honoree and receive an additional $25,000 to further her charitable efforts. All ten honorees will be recognized in December at a star-studded awards ceremony hosted by L'Oreal Paris in New York."
Complete program guidelines, information about previous recipients, and nomination instructions are available at the Women of Worth website.
Friday, January 30, 2015
As reported in the Daily Tax Report and as released in a statement from his office, Senator Grassley is requesting that a Missouri non-profit hospital, Mosaic Life in Care in St. Joseph, Missouri, explain its large number of lawsuits against low-income patients over treatment bills rather than providing such patients reasonable payment plans for their medical care. In a letter to the hospital, the Senator affirmed Mosaic's requirement to confer community as a condition to its tax-exempt status as well as meet other requirements under the law, including a financial assistance policy and constraints on billing and collection practices. In his statement, the Senator explained:
Non-profit hospitals are obligated under law to have a financial assistance policy and alert those who can’t afford care of any assistance they qualify to receive. Occasionally, a hospital seems to go out of its way to avoid helping the poorest patients. When these cases come up, the hospitals should explain their practices and how they comply with the spirit and the letter of the law. It’s a matter of accountability for the tax breaks they receive.
According to The Times Herald in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania voters could may be voting on a state constitutional amendment to resolve a long-running dispute about who decides which charities should be exempt from taxes, a determination that has serious repercussions not only for the purported charity itself but also the cities and towns in which they are based. A constitutional amendment passed the Pa. Legislature during its last session that would confer upon the Legislature explicit authority to “establish uniform standards and qualifications” in determining what constitutes a "purely public charity" (and thus tax-exempt) under the Pennsylvania Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act (Act 55 of 1997). According to The Times Herald, "hospital and health-related organizations, religious groups and other nonprofits have urged lawmakers to advance the proposal, while municipal officials say it might add to their already disproportionate number of tax-exempt properties."
If Pennsylvania legislators approve the legislation again within the next two years, voters will vote on the measure as a referendum. According to the article, the May 19 primary is the earliest possible date it could reach voters.
(See a Senate Co-Sponsorship Memoranda for further information on the legislation).