I posted a new article on SSRN today that will be published in the Pitt Tax Review soon. This is an introduction to the symposium Pitt Law hosted back in November 2019 before the Covidian times on the 1969 Tax Act and Charities. I will post the link to the issue as soon as it goes live. It includes contributions from Ellen Aprill, Jim Fishman, Dana Brakman Reiser, Ray Madoff, and Khrista McCarden.
"Fifty years ago, Congress enacted the Tax Reform Act of 1969 to regulate charitable activity of the rich. Congress constricted the influence of the wealthy on private foundations and hindered the abuse of dollars put into charitable solution through income tax rules. Concerned that the likes of the Mellons, the Rockefellers, and the Fords were putting substantial wealth into foundations for huge tax breaks while continuing to control those funds for their own private ends, Congress revamped the tax rules to force charitable foundations created and controlled by the wealthy to pay out charitable dollars annually and avoid self-dealing. Today, with concerns of similar misuse of philanthropic institutions to further wealthy interests, it is worthwhile to reconsider this significant legislation fifty years later.
Natural questions arise. What was the goal of Congress with respect to charity and with respect to tax? Did it accomplish these goals? Are those goals still relevant? What goals might suggest themselves today? Do we have the ability to modify the law to support those new goals? On November 1, 2019, the Pittsburgh Tax Review hosted a symposium to examine the 1969 Tax Act."
The conclusion is kind of the kicker:
"As I reflect on this symposium that took place in 2019 before the origination of COVID-19 and the racial justice revolution ignited by the killing of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis, I think about the great potential of well-democratically-harnessed philanthropy and seriously doubt that can be accomplished within the space of “private” philanthropy. I lean strongly
towards eliminating tax benefits for this private “philanthropy” by denying tax exempt status to those organizations that are not public charities.
Why do I say this? Fundamentally, I believe the effort of philanthropy should not be publicly supported if it is not collectively determined. To me, Professor McCarden makes the beginnings of a persuasive case that the values inculcated and supported through the private foundation system are likely predominately exclusive ones rather than public ones. I think that lack of a public nature should matter. Oddly, the private foundation tax architecture not only supports these wealthy exclusive preferences, but as Professor McCarden points out, it forces the private foundation to spend a lot of money every year into the future furthering those preferences of the wealthy. To be clear, the problem with this form of philanthropy is not that it might support abstruse interests such as senators complained about with respect to the Mellons, but that it works to provide significant and lasting governmental benefits to the private, perhaps well meaning interests, of people simply because they happen to be wealthy. The private foundation tax architecture provides this support, lifts these efforts up, in the name of supporting collective efforts, but they are far from collectively led.
I believe deeply in the power of a fiercely independent and courageous civil society that empowers the voices of all in our communities, particularly those voices that have been and continue to be disempowered. But, the private foundation tax architecture even at its best likely can never really support such a vision because it is defined privately. And, as Professor Aprill shows, the lack of IRS enforcement capability likely makes this architecture weak anyway and unlikely to be able to ever ensure such a democratically based vision. The private foundation community is imbued with some important social justice voices such as Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation and Elizabeth Alexander of the Mellon Foundation.
Still, I believe its predominate ethic is that of Carnegie from The Gospel of Wealth: that the wealthy man is the savior of the rest of us, both in terms of their ability to invest their dollars and to spend them in ways that improve all lives. I think that wrong and harmful. That vision is not just antithetical to democracy, but it is antithetical to racial, gender, sexual orientation, and social justice. Given this, I think we ought to eliminate tax benefits for the private foundation form."
Appreciate comments good and bad on this one.
By: Philip Hackney
August 20, 2020 in Conferences, Federal – Executive, Federal – Legislative, Paper Presentations and Seminars, Publications – Articles | Permalink
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