Saturday, November 29, 2014
The article addresses a matter that could result in profound changes in the ability of the United States to ameliorate the most pressing humanitarian and global problems of our times. It provides the mechanics and addresses the solutions required to enable US donors to do more good. In an efficient market, capital ends up in its most productive use. In charitable giving, donations are not always allocated to their most effective use due in no small part to current cross-border giving laws impeding that result. The article sets forth the concept of an “efficient charitable market,” which is predicated upon unshackling the hands of the giver. The article proposes a system for implementing a new law that would allow US donors to make contributions to non-US charities.
Ryan S. Keller (Ph.D. candidate, Cambridge) has posted Beyond Homo Economicus: The Prosocial Brain & The Charitable Tax Deduction, Virginia Tax Review (forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
Charitable tax policy is at an impasse. Historically, citizens have overwhelmingly supported the charitable tax deduction as a means of fostering diversity, encouraging donations and supporting the nonprofit sector. Yet various policymakers and academics have increasingly disputed the deduction’s cogency and justifiability. In response, legal scholars and economists have offered various defenses and assessments of the deduction, but these have not convinced skeptics or placed the deduction on sufficiently solid theoretical and policy footing. The article adopts a novel approach by instead employing recent research in the neuroscience and psychology of prosocial behavior and charitable giving. Specifically, it identifies structural advantages specific to the deduction, rather than to charity or nonprofits more broadly. It then delineates key neural mechanisms and psychological functions that provide evidence linking dimensions of the deduction to distinct, previously neglected positive externalities. Amidst growing skepticism, developing a more capacious understanding of the deduction’s worth to society is essential. Indeed, failure to consider more robust, innovative analyses of the deduction compels authorities to craft policy without adequate information, and leaves the deduction and thus many philanthropic endeavors needlessly vulnerable.
Update on Nonprofits & Politics: Aprill and Colinvaux Articles, AALS Program, IRS Controversy Developments & More
While perhaps the congressional attention to the now 18 months old and counting IRS controversy will decline as the focus shifts to governing (we hope) and 2016 (unavoidably), the bubbling pot that is now nonprofits and politics continues to boil. Here are some of the latest developments:
Ellen Aprill (Loyola-L.A.) has posted The Latest Installment of the Section 501(c)(4) Saga: The Section 527 Obstacle to Effective Section 501(c)(4) Regulations, and Roger Colinvaux (Catholic) has posted Political Activity Limits and Tax Exemption: A Gordian's Knot, Virginia Tax Review (forthcoming). (And, as noted by Paul Caron when I presented at Loyola-L.A., I am working on a draft article currently titled Taxing Politics, which I should hopefully be able to post early in the new year.)
At the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting, the Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law and the Section on Taxation are co-sponsoring IRS Oversight of Charitable and Other Exempt Organizations – Broken? Fixable? on Saturday, January 3rd, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The topic grew out of the IRS controversy, although the panel's scope will be much broader. Marcus Owens (Caplin & Drysdale) will be moderating, and panelists include Ellen Aprill (Loyola-LA), Phil Hackney (LSU), Jim Fishman (Pace), Terri Helge (Texas A&M), Dan Tokaji (Ohio State), and Donald Tobin (Maryland).
In news relating directly to the IRS controversy, the staffs of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued dueling reports, neither of which said much more than we have already heard (repeatedly) from both sides of the aisle. At the IRS, new TE/GE Commissioner Sunita Lough issued her annual Program Letter, emphasizing accountability and transparency as she continues to try to move the division beyond the controversy (referenced obliquely as "the challenges over the last year for the IRS and TE/GE specifically"). And to the annoyance of her critics, Lois Lerner gave an extensive interview to Politico.
And there is more:
- Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014 launched on October 5th, to very limited media coverage, although there were a few stories right around election day about the over 1600 participating pastors and churches. See the stories in Politico, a Washington Post blog, and the Washington Times.
- On the election law/FEC side of things, there are lawsuits still pending that asset Crossroads GPS (Public Citzen v. FEC) and American Action Network and Americans for Job Security (CREW v. FEC) should have registered and reported as political commitees. (Hat tip: Paul Barton's article this past week in the BNA Daily Tax Report)
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
The scholarly discussion of social enterprise and hybrid legal entities shows no signs of abating. The most recent crop of articles includes the following four plus an entire issue of the Harvard Business Law Review.
Robert T. Esposito (NYU Fellow), Using a Canon to Kill a Fly: Charitable Soliciation Acts and Social Enterprise, NYU Journal of Law and Business (forthcoming)
The Harvard Business Law Review, Volume 4, Issue 2 (2014) - Benefit Corporations includes five articles relating to these hybrid entities, including one by Delaware Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
h/t to our friends over at TaxProf Blog:
Benjamin M. Leff (American), Preventing Private Inurement in Tranched Social Enterprises, 41 Seton Hall L. Rev. ___ (2015):
Monday, August 25, 2014
Ronald Chester (New England) has posted The Life and Death of the Ipswich Grammar School: Is Enduring Dead Hand Control Possible?, ACTEC Journal (forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
This article examines the reasons for the 360-year longevity of the Ipswich (Mass.) Grammar School trust, which was in force from 1652 to 2012, the longest-running charitable trust in American history. It concludes that the cornerstone of the trust’s longevity was the emphasis of its major donor, the Puritan William Paine, on open-handed contribution to the community, rather than dead hand control. A wealthy merchant and landowner and friend of Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop and his son, Paine imbued his commercial activities with a profound civic-mindedness.
A 1647 law required the establishment of a grammar school by any town within the Colony that had 100 families or more. The town of Ipswich, where Paine then resided, established a formal trust in 1652 to fund the school. Upon his death in 1660, Paine devised a unique parcel of land called Little Neck to the trust, whose trustees (“feoffees”) were the elders of Ipswich. The only restriction on Paine's gift of the land “forever” was that the property not be “sold or wasted.”
Although the trust was terminated by agreement of the feoffees and their tenants, and approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General and Courts, the author contends that it could easily have survived with Paine’s vision intact had the feoffees, many of whom were conflicted and inexperienced, been replaced by more professional trustees. The article compares and contrasts the Ipswich trust to the less successful 17th century Hopkins trust and to the modern Barnes Foundation trust in Pennsylvania. The Hopkins trust, which created the Cambridge (Mass.) Grammar School among other entities, spawned litigation lasting 135 years. The Barnes trust, founded in the early- and mid- 20th century and containing some of the most important art works in the world, likewise triggered much litigation, which may not be over, even today. The article concludes that “the longevity a donor’s charity achieves depends on the donor’s swallowing his or her ego and leaving the charitable vehicle open to change by the living.”
Erik Jensen (Case Western Reserve) has posted Taking the Student Out of Student Athlete: College Sports and the Unrelated Business Income Tax, Journal of Taxation of Investments (forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
A recent decision by a National Labor Relations Board regional director, concluding that football players at Northwestern University are employees for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, could have spillover effects in tax law. This article considers whether severing the connection between participation in athletics and the educational function of a university — i.e., ending the pretense that athletes are student athletes — could lead to imposition of the unrelated business income tax (UBIT) on the net revenue of some intercollegiate teams at big-time athletic colleges.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Harvey Dale (NYU School of Law), along with Victoria Bjorklund, Jennifer I. Reynoso, and Jillian P. Diamant (all three affiliated with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP), have posted to SSRN “Evolution, Not Revolution: A Legislative History of the New York Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act,” 17 N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y 377 (2014). A pdf version of the article, made available by the publishing journal, is available here. The “roadmap” of the article, set forth in its introduction, follows:
Part I of this article examines the history of the laws that have addressed investment management and appropriation of charitable and not-for-profit assets. Part II provides an overview of the current uniform law as well as the version enacted in New York. Part III reviews the Act in detail, examining what types of organizations and funds come within the Act’s scope, assessing the evolution of the individual provisions, and, where relevant, discussing selected controversies and legislative drafting issues. Part IV reviews the Act’s impact on other New York Laws. Part V addresses the so-called internal affairs doctrine and related choice of law issues. Part VI examines the importance of uniformity of interpretation of law. Part VII considers selected financial accounting rules. Finally, Part VIII concludes the article with suggestions for further action—via technical corrections, substantive amendments, and regulatory guidance—that are recommended for clarification or correction of NYPMIFA’s current provisions.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Nonprofit evaluation is a key component of establishing an efficient charitable market. Without a way to measure social impact, both nonprofits and donors remain unaware of whether investment is being put to its most productive use. (Social impact may be thought of as what the charity has accomplished with a donation). As Stephen Goldberg has noted in his book Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets, one of the reasons inefficiency exists in the charitable market is because funders currently cannot differentiate between effective and ineffective charities. The Stanford Social Innovation Review recently examined the need for a shift in nonprofit evaluation and the discourse surrounding it in “Measuring Social Impact: Lost in Translation,” and the ideas expressed hold valuable insights for the sector.
Most importantly, the authors contend that nonprofits need to set the agenda in terms of evaluation and should use a qualitative approach in addition to a quantitative one. They point out that if nonprofits do not shape the evaluation conversation, funders will do it for them. They note five specific items that nonprofits should “talk more about” in terms of evaluation. First, nonprofits should focus more on their purpose and their strategy for achieving it. As the authors advise, “[A]ll nonprofits should have a clearly defined theory for how they will create change that connects their strategies and programs to the results that they anticipate.” Second, nonprofits should spend more time discussing people. Funders often want nonprofit assessment to include quantitative assessments, e.g., the number of people indirectly affected. However, too much emphasis on quantitative analysis reduces a nonprofit’s impact to a series of numbers. The authors promote a more balanced approach that includes qualitative assessments as well: “Qualitative assessments that draw on conversations with people are often more consistent with how nonprofits operate, and they are also a methodologically valid form of evaluation.” Third, nonprofits would benefit from drawing attention to the big picture. In other words, evaluation should consider how a given nonprofit’s work fits within the collective transformation of an area. Fourth, nonprofits should not shy away from discussing their challenges. Their failures and lessons learned are beneficial in terms of collective learning. Accordingly, the authors urge nonprofits to highlight not only monitoring but also transparency as a goal in evaluation. Finally, nonprofits should encourage more learning. Currently, funders (who focus more on monitoring than learning) have a much louder voice in evaluation than beneficiaries and nonprofit workers who are directly involved and who may facilitate learning.
In terms of the discourse surrounding nonprofit evaluation, the authors caution that business, managerial, and scientific language is drowning out the nonprofit voice. This underscores the need for nonprofits to take charge of shaping evaluation. Too often terms such as “investment,” “returns,” “output,” and “outcomes” are used to discuss social impact, without regard to the five other areas identified. The Stanford team’s study of 400 individuals and organizations in the nonprofit sector revealed that the vocabulary of nonprofit evaluation typically falls within 3 cultural domains: (1) managerial, (2) scientific, and (3) associational, with managerial terms dominating the discourse. All of these domains hold valuable insights for the nonprofit sector; however, nonprofits themselves should be the ones to shape their evaluation and the discourse surrounding it.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
"Trickle Down" economics, in the perjorative, "voodoo economic" sense, maintains that lowering taxes on the wealthest taxpayers invariably benefits everyone else because wealthy taxpayers will invest in jobs and infrastrucure at higher rates with the savings from lower taxes. Opponents argue that giving benefits to the wealthy only enriches the wealthy, without any distributed benefits to anyone else. The same issue arises with respect to the private benefit doctrine, I think. I must admit that I believe in the trickle down theory when it comes to private benefit. The natural law of self interest requires that somebody benefit in particular, if everyone is to benefit in general. We pay teachers if we want an educated society. A doctor has to be paid, if patients are going to be healed. Nobody works for free, not even for charity and the truly altruistic are natural law breakers, unfortunately. Economic revitalization, too, requires, that we support particular business -- and their owners who might get richer -- if a blighted area is to be revitalized. In other words, the public good cannot be achieved without private benefit. And so the alleged "prohibition against private benefit" cannot mean just that. Like everything else pertaining to charitable tax exemption, even political endorsement, its all a matter of degree. We can and should prohibit unnecessary private benefit, but not private benefit per se. To do so would be to prohibit the public good.
Professor Matthew Rossman's latest article, Evaluating Trickle Down Charity -- A Solution for Determining When Economic Development Aimed at Revitalizing America's Cities and Regions is Really Charitable addresses the extent to which private benefit is necessary to the public good. Here is the abstract:
As our nation's philanthropic sector becomes more entrepreneurial, ambitious and influenced by the private sector, longstanding legal standards on what constitutes “charity” struggle to stay relevant. More and more often, organizations that seek classification by the Internal Revenue Service as a Section 501(c)(3) charity (and the substantial public subsidy that this status unlocks) are not the soup kitchens and homeless shelters of yesteryear, but highly sophisticated ventures which accomplish their missions in ways that are less obviously charitable. In no case is this more true than in the recent widespread emergence of nonprofit organizations whose primary activity is providing direct aid to for-profit businesses.
This Article examines this trend and coins the phrase “trickle down charity” to encapsulate the analytic challenge these organizations (which the article terms REDOs, short for “regional economic development organizations”) pose when they seek classification as a charity. REDOs hope that the privately-owned, profit-seeking ventures they aid will ultimately help those in need in the form of jobs and a flourishing economy. While influential and, in some cases, transformative to cities and regions in economic distress, REDOs turn the traditional charitable services delivery model on its head by advancing private interests first and betting that benefit to a charitable class will follow. By relying on standards designed for more conventional charities, current IRS scrutiny of this new model is outdated, inconsistent and mistimed. The most significant consequence of this imprecision is that the publicly funded subsidy American laws have created to incentivize charitable work may be misused to support organizations that are not really charitable while subtracting from the pool of funds available to those that clearly are.
To solve this problem, I propose that the IRS rely on the law of charity’s often overlooked and sometimes maligned “private benefit doctrine.” Specifically, this doctrine should inform new IRS procedures that (1) require all REDOs to make a more compelling demonstration of the nexus between their activities and the accomplishment of charitable purposes and (2) provide a system of ongoing accountability with respect to those claims. Enlivening, rather than ignoring, the private benefit doctrine in this way will not only address the problem of regulating REDOs but should also serve as a useful template for the IRS in examining other emerging forms of 21st century charity and, thus, in maintaining the overall integrity ofthe philanthropic sector.
I just wish I had thought of describing the private benefit process using the analogy to "trickle down" economics. The phrase captures both the intended process and the theoretical objection all at once.
Friday, June 20, 2014
The June 2014 edition of the American Bar Association's publication, Business Law Today, contains a "mini-theme" dedicated to nonprofit organizations, with an introduction entitled "Nonprofit Organizations: Changes in Challenging Times." Articles in the edition include:
1. "The Messiest Catch: Fishing for Health-Care Institution Donors in a Changing Sea" by Matthew G. Wright.
2. "Mergers, Acquisitions, and Affiliations Involving Nonprofits: Not Typical M&A Transactions" by William L. Boyd III.
3. "Taking Care of Business: Use of a For-Profit Subsidiary by a Nonprofit Organization" by David A. Levitt and Steven R. Chiodini.
4. "Five Tax Traps for Business Lawyers Advising Nonprofit Clients" by Cynthia R. Rowland and Deborah K. Tellier.
5. "Whither the Parsonage Allowance? Will It Survive the Most Recent Attack?" by Lisa A. Runquist and David T. Ball.
6. "E-mail Voting: A Practical Approach to a Difficult Trap" by Leah Cohen Chatinover.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Munson: Fraud on the Faithful? Charitable Intentions of Religious Congregations' Members & Church Property Law
Valerie J. Munson (SIU Carbondale) has posted "Fraud on the Faithful? The Charitable Intentions of Members of Religious Congregations and the Peculiar Body of Law Governing Religious Property in the United States" to SSRN. Here is an abstract:
This article examines American church property law, past and present, and discusses its inconsistencies and ambiguities. It then suggests how state governments could play an important role in clarifying this area of the law and protecting the intentions and expectations of local church donors who may well be unaware that a general church organization (denomination) is the ultimate beneficiary of their donations. The article is unique in that it is written with a perspective that takes into account the real world contexts of church property disputes, in history and today. (The author was aided in this regard by historic Supreme Court documents that became available to scholars just this spring through a recent digitalization project.)
The article begins by placing the reader in the midst of a church property dispute as seen through the eyes of Sandra and John Cook, fictional characters whose experiences accurately reflect those of the author’s former clients. It then proceeds in three parts.
The first part is an overview of church property rights under American law and begins with a short discussion of the religious context in which this country was founded, the legal existence and power given religious organizations in the post-revolutionary period, and early concerns about the need to limit the power of church authorities over non-spiritual matters like possession and control of church property. It then discusses the three very different approaches used to resolve church property disputes by different states, at different times. The first is the “departure from doctrine” rule first announced in the Scottish case, Craigdaillie v. Aikman in 1813. That approach turns on a determination of which faction in a church property dispute most closely follows the religious tenets that existed at the time a local church was founded. The second approach is the “deference” approach which was first articulated by the Supreme Court in 1871 in Watson v. Jones, a case arising out of the civil war. Using that approach, if a court determines that a local church belonged to a general church organization having its own authoritative structure and means of deciding disputes, the court must defer to the decision of the highest judicatory of the general church organization as to which party is entitled to possession and control of church property. The third, and now most prevalent, approach is the “neutral principles” approach endorsed by the Supreme Court in 1979 in the case of Jones v. Wolf. Under that approach, a court may decide a church property dispute if it can do so without deciding any religious issue. That is, it can decide the dispute if it can do so by simply applying neutral principles of state property, contract, and trust law. The first part of the article concludes with a summary of how the state courts have applied the neutral principles approach in recent years, which has continued the ambiguity and inconsistency in this area of the law.
The second part of the article discusses the context in which individuals today decide to donate money to local churches. It looks at what historic case law provides by way of context as well as at current data on church affiliation practices in the United States.
The third, and final, part of the article suggests three ways in which state governments can assume a role in clarifying the area of church property law, a role they have been urged to assume by the Supreme Court for over forty years. The suggested state government actions would also protect the intentions and expectations of potential donors to local churches in a manner consistent with current public policy favoring financial transparency, especially full disclosure in charitable fundraising. One possible action is the amending of state charitable solicitation or church incorporation laws to require specific disclosure of any beneficial interest a general church organization holds in local church property. A second is through vigorous enforcement of existing state anti-fraud laws. A third is through vigorous enforcement of the public policy requirement for continued tax exemption.
The article concludes by bringing the discussion of church property law back to real people, like Sandra and John Cook, who are deeply affected by church property disputes, and suggesting that now is the time for state governments to step up and assume the role envisioned for them by the Supreme Court by acting to protect the intentions and expectations of those who give of their time and money to support local churches.
Luigi Butera (George Mason, Interdiscplinary Center for Economic Science) and Jeffrey Ryan Horn (George Mason, Economics Department) have posted "Good News, Bad News and Social Image: The Market for Charitable Giving" to SSRN. Here is an abstract:
Financial efficiency represents a desirable quality in charitable organizations. Yet, different theories of intrinsic and extrinsic preferences for charitable giving offer opposite predictions about donors’ reaction to this information. On one hand, learning that one’s charity is better than expected directly increases the marginal impact of giving, making donations non-decreasing in the quality of news. This behavior is consistent with warm-glow theory. On the other hand, higher efficiency has an indirect negative effect on giving, since now less money is needed to produce one unit of effective charitable good. Most notably, theories of pure altruism and guilt aversion predict this behavior. A similar tension arises for prestige motivated donors whenever information provides extrinsic incentives to give (e.g. information has a social signaling value). We model this simple framework and test it using a laboratory experiment. We show that when information about efficiency is private, giving is always non-decreasing in the quality of news. However, when the efficiency of donor’ charities is public information, this relationship breaks down: 34% of donors who respond to new information do so by reducing their giving when charities are better-than expected, and increasing it when are worse. We show that this result is driven by image-motivated donors, who treat the size of their gift and the efficiency of their chosen charities as substitutes in terms of social image payoffs.
This article presents the case for repeal of the façade easement deduction. Proponents of this benefit argue that the deduction encourages historic preservation by reimbursing property owners for relinquishing their right to alter the façade of their property in a way inconsistent with that conservation goal; however, this article shows that there are many reasons to urge its repeal: the revenue loss, the small number of beneficiaries, the financial demographics of that group of beneficiaries; the dubious industries that are supported by the deduction; and the continual marked overvaluation and abuse despite Congressional, court, and administrative review and expense.
After the last major reform effort, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA), in 2009, only 94 taxpayers claimed the façade easement charitable deduction with an average return deduction of $477,225. While there may be a desire to retain a tax benefit with purported charitable aims, the long history of unbridled abuse even with repeated legislative and administrative response should make it clear that amending the façade easement deduction is an unending proposition. In today’s world, real estate is often subject to regulation that buyers and their neighbors accept in order to retain and increase a community’s property values. The very wealthiest of homeowners who purchase homes in historic districts willingly accept local restrictions on their property’s use. There is no evidence that façade easements significantly alter the behavior of property owners. It provides them with huge tax savings for doing what they would do anyway.
Friday, June 6, 2014
With h/t to Paul Caron at the mother of all blogs, TaxProf Blog:
We investigate the effects of variations in the value of the charitable contribution deduction on nonprofit firm behavior, including exploring for the first time the effects of the tax-price of giving on fundraising and returns to fundraising. We find that a one-percent increase in tax subsidies drives a 1.7-percent increase in fundraising, and decreases average returns to fundraising by two percent. We also find that tax subsidies deliver less than a dollar of value, net of fundraising, for each dollar foregone by the government, and that program-related expenditures are largely unresponsive to subsidies, at least in the short run. We argue that these results may imply that the charitable contribution deduction is less effective than prior research has suggested. For example, we argue our results are consistent with the hypothesis that subsidies trigger a destructive arms’ race for donor funds. The modest elasticity of real charitable output to tax price implies that tax subsidies may simply crowd out other revenue sources, such that the efficacy of the subsidy depends on the relative efficiency of these alternative sources.
Friday, May 30, 2014
Johnny Rex Buckles (Houston) published "How Deep Are the Springs of Obedience Norms that Bind the Overseers of Charities?," in 62 Cath. U. L. Rev. 913 (2013). Here are some excerpts from the article's introduction:
This Article explores whether and how the exercise of discretion by charity fiduciaries in recasting a charity’s direction is, and should be, limited. Analyzing this basic issue raises additional, difficult inquiries: If the law does limit the ability of charity fiduciaries to determine the charitable paths of their entities, what standards govern the exercise of fiduciary discretion? To what extent does , and should, the law treat fiduciaries of charitable trusts dissimilarly from those who govern charitable nonprofit corporations? What role should governmental actors play in monitoring these decisions by charity managers? If governmental actors should assume some monitoring role, should their review of fiduciary decisions be ex ante or ex post? Which governmental actors should be involved? Can donors and other stakeholders sufficiently protect their interests absent a strong supervisory role by the government?
These questions are not simply esoteric enigmas deisgned to tickle the ears of legal scholars. . . . Moreover, these questions are especially timely, for the law of obedience norms governing fiduciaries of charitable corporations is unsettled and in great need of refinement. Even the law governing trustees of charitable trusts, which is comparatively stable and uniform, merits reassessment once the meaning and purposes of obedience norms are thoroughly examined.
To foster the development of the law governing charity fiduciaries, this Article presents a taxonomy of obedience norms,20 a doctrinal analysis of these norms, and a policy discussion to help answer these questions. Part I explains the fundamental nature of obedience norms and articulates and illustrates the various types of obedience norms. Parts II and III discuss legal authorities supporting or rejecting various obedience norms as applied to trustees of charitable trusts and directors of charitable nonprofit corporations, respectively. Part IV this Article evaluates the policy considerations that may justify one or more obedience norms. Finally, by presenting an analytical series of questions, Part V explains how the law should develop in imposing, and declining to impose, obedience norms on charity fiduciaries.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Philip Hackney (LSU), has posted "Taxing the Unheavenly Chorus: Why Section 501(C)(6) Trade Associations Are Undeserving of Tax Exemption," to SSRN. It is forthcoming in 92 Denv. U. L. Rev. ___ (2014):
Our federal, state, and local governments provide a subsidy that enhances the political voice of business interests. This article discusses the federal subsidy for business interests provided through the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) and argues why we should end that subsidy. Under the same section that provides exemption from income tax for charitable organizations, the Code also exempts nonprofit organizations classified as “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues.” Theory supporting tax exemption states that we should subsidize nonprofit organizations that provide goods or services that are undersupplied by the market. A charitable organization that assists the poor is a classic example of a service undersupplied by the market. Business interest group services, however, are found in abundance. Data shows that there is a significant bias in the interest group system in favor of business interests and away from interests such as labor, the poor, and the environment. Tax-exemption at federal, state, and local levels likely fosters at least some of this bias in our democracy. Rather than enhancing a pluralistic society, as some argue is a prime benefit of our tax-exempt system, tax-exemption for business interest groups enhances the voice of the powerful and detracts from the voice of the weak. Thus, because business interests experience little in the way of market failure and tax-exemption for such groups likely leads to a bias in our democratic system I argue we should end exemption for nonprofit business interests.
(Hat tip: TaxProfBlog)
Friday, May 9, 2014
Damian Alexander Bethke and Jędrzej Górski (both Chinese University of Hong Kong) have posted Rethinking Social Ventures in Hong Kong (Richmond Journal of Global Law and Business, Spring 2014). Here is the abstract:
Hong Kong has experienced a significant transformation in its understanding of business, which concerns the phenomenon of social ventures that attempt to combine a make money and do good approach and to apply business skills to address social needs. Social ventures live a mystical existence, as they are fully ignored from a legal perspective despite the recent reform of laws on charitable activities. This causes problems as to their general understanding, which the authors try to address with their own typology, systematically characterizing social ventures. Then the authors examine the legal environment of social ventures in Hong Kong and identify the challenges they face. Hong Kong’s company law and related public/administrative law issues are considered. The answer searched for is: what is the appropriate legal vehicle for social ventures, and what are the practical legal questions when a social venture wants to structure its make money and do good business? As to the first problem, the legal non-existence of social ventures results in coupled privileges — meaning a system which favors traditional business forms such as for-profit and not-for-profit companies and discourages doing good approaches by social ventures. The authors identify instances where privileges crediting charitable activities are coupled with not-for-profit status, and propose solutions under which social ventures could be registered and have tax privileges efficiently assigned by a one-stop supervision body. As the second problem, the situation of social ventures abandoning their mission of doing good poses further challenges to the legal system, and the authors propose a regime under which business organizations can easily adopt or abandon a social mission based on a partial application of the cy-près doctrine. The authors come to the conclusion that the social venture sector bears immense potential for Hong Kong as well as for all of Asia. But in order to use this potential, Hong Kong has to show a more refined understanding and has to be open to a profound discussion.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Cass Brewer (Georgia State) has posted Gift Horses, Choosy Beggars, and Other Reflections on the Role and Utility of Social Enterprise Law. Here is the abstract:
The U.S. law of social enterprise is growing rapidly. Since 2008, one-half of all U.S. states have modified their business law to establish special legal forms designed for social enterprise. Meanwhile, even with twenty-five states adopting special laws for social enterprise, the legal debate surrounding social enterprise continues. Rather than rehashing that debate, this essay sets forth the author’s personal perspective on the role and utility of social enterprise. The essay argues that, except in limited circumstances, social enterprise is superior to traditional philanthropy when it comes to solving longstanding humanitarian or environmental problems. U.S. business law thus should continue to evolve to facilitate social enterprise.
He also is a co-author (with Elizabeth Carrott Minnigh and Robert Wexler) for the just released BNA Tax Management Portfolio Social Enterprise by Non-Profits and Hybrid Organizations, No. 489-1st.
Albert Choi (UVA) has posted Relational Sanctions against Non-Profit Organizations: Why a Selfish Entrepreneur Would Organize a Non-Profit Enterprise. Here is the abstract:
This paper examines how relational sanctions can affect organizational choice. An entrepreneur can set up either a for-profit or a non-profit organization in selling product or service to customers. While the entrepreneur can distribute all the profits from a for-profit organization to herself, she faces a non-distribution constraint with respect to a non-profit organization and has to convert a non-profit firm’s profits into private benefits (such as perquisites). Because realized quality is not verifiable and is subject to error, customers, in equilibrium, impose relational sanctions against the firm when low quality product or service is delivered. With the relational sanctions, for-profit and non-profit firms provide the same (expected) level of quality to the consumers. The size of the relational sanctions and the entrepreneur’s preference over the organizational form differ, however. When converting profit into private benefits becomes more difficult at the margin, i.e., conversion exhibits decreasing returns to scale, because temptation to shirk from investing in quality gets weaker (but still positive), a non-profit organization is subject to shorter (less severe) relational sanctions. Shorter relational sanctions, in turn, can make a non-profit organization’s long-run return to the entrepreneur (in terms of private benefits) higher than that from a for-profit organization (in terms of distributed profits). Hence, even if the entrepreneur has no altruistic motive and cares only about the returns she derives from the organization, she may still choose a non-profit form. The entrepreneur is more likely to organize a non-profit firm (1) as the correlation between investment and quality gets weaker; (2) as the non-distribution constraint gets stronger at the margin; (3) when a for-profit firm is subject to tax; or (4) and as the profit margin gets smaller due, for instance, to stronger competition in the market.