Monday, December 3, 2018
In the first ever #AccountabilityMonday, which took place before Giving Tuesday, a group of scholars and journalists initiated a conversation (covered by Nonprofit Times) about nonprofit accountability and transparency. Using the hashtag #AccountabilityMonday, people posed questions and offered ideas on nonprofit topics ranging from DAFs to reading a Form 990. One of the most interesting exchanges was prompted by Phillip Hackney, who asked "What would you add to (or remove from) the Form 990 that charities file with the IRS to make it a more useful document for holding charities accountable?"
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What would you add to (or remove from) the Form 990 that charities file with the IRS to make it a more useful document for holding charities accountable? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AccountabilityMonday?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AccountabilityMonday</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CountingCharity?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CountingCharity</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/BenSoskis?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BenSoskis</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/EllenAprill?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EllenAprill</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/BDGesq?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BDGesq</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/joshnathankazis?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@joshnathankazis</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/JosephWMead?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JosephWMead</a></p>— Philip Hackney (@EOTaxProf) <a href="https://twitter.com/EOTaxProf/status/1067215438436884480?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 27, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Lots of great ideas in the replies. What would you like to see changed?
Friday, November 9, 2018
From a recent NPR report:
From 2013 to 2017, nearly 1 in 5 of the nation's 5,500-plus hospitals were acquired or merged with another hospital, according to Irving Levin Associates, a health care analytics firm in Norwalk, Conn. Industry analysts say for-profit hospital companies are poised to grow more rapidly as they buy up both for-profits and nonprofits — potentially altering the character and role of public health-oriented nonprofits. Nonprofit hospitals are exempt from state and local taxes. In return, they must provide community services and care to poor and uninsured patients — a commitment that is honored to varying degrees nationwide. Of the nation's 4,840 general hospitals that aren't run by the federal government, 2,849 are nonprofit, 1,035 are for-profit and 956 are owned by state or local governments, according to the American Hospital Association. In 2017, 29 for-profit companies bought 18 for-profit hospitals and 11 not-for-profits, according to an analysis for Kaiser Health News by Irving Levin Associates.
Monday, November 5, 2018
The SALT/170 Proposed Regulations issued on August 27, 2018 had their day in the court of public opinion today – that being the public hearing held at 10:00 A.M. today at the IRS. I am still trying to find video or a transcript of the hearing (I will update the post with a link should I find one or if any kind reader passes one my way.)
If you aren’t familiar with these Regulations, they were described in this post (which includes many, many links to commentary by lots of smart people). An additional post highlights further commentary by Andy Grewal regarding the significant flaws in the Proposed Regulations (both posts by my co-blogger, Lloyd Mayer.)
Richard Rubin of the Wall Street Journal did live tweet the hearing (his Twitter feed can be found here, which you should follow anyway if you are tax type.) According to him, there were 24 speakers signed up, including an 8th grader talking about the benefits of private school. From Rubin's description, many of the speakers were specifically objecting to the treatment of state level education credit programs. In addition, it appears that 7,749 comments were received on the www.regulations.gov website.
Rubin noted that at the end of the hearings, Scott Dinwiddie of the IRS was quoted as saying, “We have our work cut out for us.” If you believe the underlying theory advanced by the IRS, then I’m not sure what work needs to be done, as they did take a pretty straightforward stance on it all. I’ll be curious to see what direction the final regs take…
UPDATE: Thanks to Mr. Linville in the comments, who provided a link for the hearing transcript, so please see below.
Friday, November 2, 2018
A youth charity founded by Saudi Arabia's crown prince just lost an influential backer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in the latest sign of fallout after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The charitable organization started by the Microsoft co-founder and his philanthropist wife is canceling much of its $5 million pledge to the MiSk Foundation, a Saudi youth empowerment nonprofit chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Last week, a Saudi prosecutor acknowledged for the first time that agents of the kingdom planned Khashoggi's slaying at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The prosecutor initially said the Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident was unintentionally killed during a physical altercation. The Saudis earlier claimed Khashoggi, a critic of Prince Mohammed, left the consulate unharmed. . . . Virgin Group co-founder Richard Branson, another high-profile philanthropist, has also in light of Khashoggi's killing.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
The Nonprofit Management Program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies is presenting its next Master Class in the program's Professional Development Series on November 15, 2018: "Charities Regulation on the International Front: Emerging Issues in Globalization."
A description of the program:
Regulation and enforcement in the charitable sector are increasingly global in scope. Whether addressing cross-border charitable solicitation, oversight issues within religiously based organizations, terrorism concerns, money laundering, or the burgeoning technological platforms that enable new and expanded reach for these activities internationally, charities regulators are on the front lines of some of the most cutting-edge international legal issues. Join us for a deep-dive discussion with our panel of experts discussing the new globalized context of charities regulation.
James G. Sheehan, Chief, Charities Bureau, New York State Attorney General's Office
Marcus S. Owens Partner, Loeb & Loeb, Former Director, Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service
Moderator: Cindy M. Lott, Esq., Academic Director, Nonprofit Management Programs and Senior Lecturer'
Monday, July 16, 2018
ABA's Business Law Section Recognizes Ellen Aprill with the 2018 Outstanding Nonprofit Academic Award
I am very pleased to share the news that Ellen Aprill has been given the Outstanding Academic Award for 2018 for distinguished academic achievement in the nonprofit section by the Nonprofit Organizations Committee of the American Bar Association's Business Law Section - although we all know that her academic achievements should be recognized well beyond just the nonprofit sector. For anyone involved in nonprofit legal issues, especially in the area of political activity and advocacy, Ellen's work is required reading. I have had the privilege of knowing Ellen from our work at the ABA before I became an academic. Now that I am part of the academy, she has always been available for the random bit of advice or for expert scholarly opinion. I personally can't imagine anyone more deserving. From the ABA announcement:
Ellen Aprill is the John E. Anderson Chair in Tax Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and is the
founding director of its Tax LLM program. She has been a member of the Loyola Law School faculty since
Professor Aprill is one of the founders of the Loyola Law School Western Conference on Tax Exempt
Organizations, considered by many to be the premier nonprofit law conference on the West coast. She
has co-hosted this conference for twenty years and has been instrumental in bringing together leaders in
government, academia and the nonprofit law bar each year for this conference.
Professor Aprill has written extensively on issues of nonprofit law and is a reliable source of knowledge
both for her students and the public. Her other accomplishments include serving as a fellow of the
American College of Tax Counsel and the American Law Institute, and serving as a member of the
Executive Committee of the USC Federal Tax Institute and the Academic Advisory Board of the
Tannenwald Foundation for Excellence in Tax Scholarship. She is a former Chair of the Los Angeles
County Bar Tax Section, which has honored her with the Dana Latham Award for outstanding contribution
to the community and to the legal profession in the field of taxation.
Congratulations to Ellen and to all of the other individuals recognized by the ABA (including Greg Colvin and Eve Borenstein (among others), who many of us in this community know as well) on their honors.
See also a similar write up on our sister Tax Prof Blog.
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Slate has started a new series -- Slate 90 -- that "examines the multibillion-dollar nonprofit sector" by scrutinizing the behavior of the largest nonprofits. As the introductory article explains:
The Slate 90 represents the top 10 American nonprofits by revenue in nine categories: arts, culture, and humanities; education; environment and animals; health; human services; international, foreign affairs; mutual/membership benefit; public, societal benefit; and religion-related...
Some of these organizations are good and worthy; others aren’t. But they’re all equally tax-exempt under the law, answerable in practice to almost no one except overstretched state attorneys general. Every single organization on this list represents a significant tax expenditure; collectively, they represent a massive pot of uncollected taxes that, ultimately, need to be made up by the rest of us. Is that a bargain worth making? Take a look ..., and decide for yourself.
Scroll through available stories here.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
New Zealand Denies Greenpeace Charitable Status because its Views on Environment Wouldn't Benefit the Public
Earlier this year, New Zealand denied charity status to Greenpeace because it found its policy positions to be contrary to the public interest. Under New Zealand law, charitable activities may involve seeking policy changes, but the purpose must be in furtherance of the public benefit. (For thorough coverage of New Zealand charity law, see this book by Poirier.) The registration board rejected Greenpeace's application on two grounds:
- Greenpeace promotes its points of view on the environment and other issues in ways that cannot be found to be for the benefit of the public.
- Greenpeace and its members’ involvement in illegal activities amounts to an illegal purpose which disqualifies it from registration.
On the first point, the Charities Registration Board reasoned:
Although the Supreme Court in Greenpeace held that advocacy can be charitable, it indicated that promoting a cause or advocating a particular viewpoint will not often be charitable. This is because it is not possible to say whether the views promoted are for the public benefit in the way the law recognises as charitable.
The Board considers that Greenpeace’s focus is on advocating its point of view on environmental issues such fossil fuel exploration and the expansion of intensive dairy farming. Most of Greenpeace’s environmental advocacy cannot be determined to be in the public benefit when all the potential consequences of adopting its views are taken into account.
The Board noted that advocacy for protection of the environment could be considered charitable, but Greenpeace's positions were simply too extreme to be considered in the public benefit. For example, the Board acknowledged that "in general" advocacy for sustainability is charitable, Greenpeace's concern about climate change and advocacy for specific policies such as the role of fossil fuels "is a complex issue that requires in-depth consideration of the potential consequences of New Zealand's international obligations and interests, environmental risks, the importance of fossil fuels in New Zealand's economy, the competing interests of industries, economic costs, and New Zealand's dealings with other nations." Finding Greenpeace's position on policy to not consider the other criteria, the Board couldn't find that "the views promoted by Greenpeace on climate change are of a benefit in the way that the law recognises as charitable."
The rejection of Greenpeace's application on the first ground may seem surprising to those in the US. Although there was once a time when governments in the US weighed whether an organization's policy viewpoints were in the public interest (and while some who dislike the NRA, the ACLU, or other advocacy grounds have urged a return to the discretionary denial of yesteryear), those days have largely passed, in no small part to Constitutional/First Amendment concerns.
Back to New Zealand, Greenpeace appealed an earlier board decision against it, so it will be interesting to see if this is heading up the courts again.
Monday, February 26, 2018
Merryn Somerset Webb penned an op-ed in The Financial Times entitled The charitable giving model is an undemocratic use of funds. Focused on the UK, the piece proposes that "99 per cent of the organisations with charitable status in the UK should have it removed." Instead, tax subsidies would apply to a limited number of official charities that would be tightly regulated. Read the entire piece at: https://www.ft.com/content/1093fcec-187a-11e8-9376-4a6390addb44
Sunday, February 25, 2018
On Friday, the New York Times Editorial Board penned an opinion piece entitled, "When Charity Workers Turn Predatory." It concludes:
the Oxfam scandal has sounded an alarm across the entire nongovernmental aid profession that it must heed if it is to retain the public trust on which it depends. There must be zero tolerance for misuse of power by staff members in the field and swift and transparent action against any appearance of abuse.
Read the entire thing (paywall) at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/opinion/when-charity-workers-turn-predatory.html
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
I’m scrolling through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (the “BBA”)(P.L. No. 15-123 signed on February 9, 2018 – enrolled bill from Thomas.gov here) in my leisure time. It appears that there are two provisions that directly impact exempt organizations, as follows:
- Section 41109 of the BBA clarifies the application of the investment income excise tax for private colleges and universities. As you may recall, Section 13701 of the legislation formerly known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) added new Section 4968, which imposes an excise tax on the investment income of certain private colleges and universities. This new excise tax only applies to private colleges and universities that have at least 500 students, more than 50% of which are located in the U.S. The BBA clarifies that this refers to “tuition paying” students only – but of course, it didn't actually give us a statutory definition of “tuition paying.” Full tuition? External scholarship? Internal scholarship? Tuition waiver? Work study? Have fun with the counting, university admin types.
- Section 41110 of the BBA contains the Newman’s Own provisions by adding Code Section 4943(g) (h/t to Evelyn Brody for the CT Mirror article). These provisions were originally in the TCJA but were struck by the Senate Parliamentarian for having insufficient budget impact. I will have more to say about Section 4943(g) in another post.
Unless I missed it (let me know if I did!), absent from the BBA are the following: (1) the Johnson Amendment provisions that were also struck from the TCJA by the Senate Parliamentarian, and (2) the technical fix to the exempt organization excess compensation excise tax found in new Code Section 4960 that would actually make it applicable public universities - as apparently was originally intended but, as discussed by Professor Ellen Aprill, there was a significant drafting fail. (I heard a rumor that someone from the IRS agreed at the ABA Tax meeting that the technical fix was, in fact, necessary - can anyone confirm?) If only there were a process by which Congress could talk to experts like Ellen before it finalized draft legislation…
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The end of 2017 brought significant new tax legislation. Although the Johnson Amendment remained intact, the increase in the standard deduction means that fewer people will itemize deductions, which, in turn, effectively eliminates the value of the charitable deduction for many US taxpayers. The Washington Post article "Charities fear tax bill could turn philanthropy into a pursuit only for the rich" catalogs worries by major nonprofits' leaders that donations will drop and the shift will be towards wealthier donors. On his blog, Alan Cantor warns that "An earthquake just hit the nation," and the tax changes will reduce the funds to the sector and increase the power of the wealthiest at the very time when nonprofits will face greater demands. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, however, was unimpressed, publishing a sharp critique entitled "Uncharitable Charities:"
These nonprofits want to keep millions of Americans filing more complicated tax forms and paying higher tax rates. They also sell Americans short by assuming that most donate mainly because of the tax break, rather than because they believe in a cause or want to share their blessings with others. How little they respect their donors.
How will the nonprofit sector fare in 2018?
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Ellen P. Aprill (Loyola Law School - Los Angeles) has written Amending the Johnson Amendment in the Age of Cheap Speech, University of Illinois Law Review On-Line (Forthcoming). Below is Professor Aprill's abstract:
On November 2, 2017, the House Ways and Means Committee released its proposed tax reform legislation. It includes a provision amending the provision of the Internal Revenue Code, sometimes called the Johnson Amendment, that prohibits charities, including churches, from intervening in campaigns for elected office, at risk of loss of their exemption under section 501(c)(3). Under the Ways and Means proposal, as later revised and passed by the House, organizations exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) would be permitted to engage in campaign intervention if “the preparation and presentation of such content . . . is in the ordinary course of the organization’s regular and customary activities in carrying out its exempt purpose and . . . results in the organization incurring not more than de minimis incremental expenses.”
If such legislation becomes law, the IRS and the Department will be faced with the difficult task of giving guidance as to the meaning of “regular and customary,” “de minimis,” and “incidental.” It would likely have to address whether donations could be earmarked for campaign intervention so long as they were within the organization’s de minimis limit and involved regular and customary activities. Whatever rules are announced are sure to be controversial and complicate enforcement of the prohibition for campaign intervention that is more than de minimis. Given the lack of IRS resources and controversy regarding its attempts to regulate political activities of exempt organizations, the IRS may well hesitate to take action against possible violations.
However these terms are defined and enforced, a de minimis exception raises significant issues that demand attention in an era of what Professors Eugene Volokh and Richard Hasen have called “cheap speech.” These are issues that require consideration whether or not a de minimis exception is adopted in the current tax reform legislation.
After giving background on the Johnson Amendment, this essay discusses the impact of any de minimis exception regarding campaign intervention in the age of cheap speech. It concludes that the availability of cheap speech may have undermined the most common constitutional justification for the prohibition – that the government has no duty to subsidize speech – such that a new approach to limiting the political speech of charities is needed.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
LDF trusts raise questions as to tax treatment of the trust, whether the trust can take advantage of special rules applicable to political organizations, whether contributions to the LFD trusts can be deemed gifts excluded from the official’s income, whether donors to LDF trusts are subject to gift tax liability, whether the government official must report amounts distributed from the fund for legal expenses as income, and the extent to which deductions are available to the government officials for amounts expended from the trust on his or her behalf.
Thursday, November 2, 2017
House Republicans' Tax Bill Preserves Charitable Contribution Deduction, But Will It Be Less Utilized?
According to The New York Times (here and here), Republicans in the House of Representatives release proposed legislation today that would institute some significant changes to the Internal Revenue Code. Although the tax bill preserves the charitable contribution deduction, significant changes to the standard deduction may result in even less taxpayers itemizing their deductions. The proposed tax bill nearly doubles the amount of the standard deduction and eliminates the personal exemption. Presently, approximately 30% of filing taxpayers elect to itemize their deductions. According to the Tax Policy Center, 84% of taxpayers who currently elect to itemize would take the standard deduction as proposed under this bill.
According to The Washington Post, the National Council of Nonprofits warned that charitable deductions will decrease under this legislation as many middle- and upper-middle-class taxpayers would likely not elect to itemize, thus losing any tax benefit of making charitable contributions. Republicans counter that assertion by concluding that such taxpayers should give more to charities due to decreased tax bills. Stay tuned for more response from the charitable sector as well as calculated effect of the proposed change on the charitable contribution deduction.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Sean Hepburn Ferrer, who once chaired the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, accused the charity of infringing trademark and other rights belonging to him and Luca Dotti, his half-brother....
In Thursday’s lawsuit, Ferrer said he resigned as chairman in 2012 amid disagreements over spending, but let the charity use his mother’s name, persona and legacy case-by-case.
He said he has granted no such rights since 2015 and that the charity’s subsequent infringements falsely suggest that he, Dotti or their mother endorsed them.
Friday, September 15, 2017
As the use of donor advised funds grows, so does the legal attention to donor advised funds. All of this attention started in (what seems like forever ago…) 2006, with the passage of the Pension Protection Act. Since that time, we have seen the PPA-mandated Treasury study released in 2011, as well as a Congressional Research Service study on DAFs in 2012. In addition, the National Philanthropic Trust releases an annual DAF report, the 2016 version of which can be found here. Information and opinions abound, and yet, we still wait patiently for regulations under the donor advised fund excise taxes passed in 2006. I’m quite certain those regulations will be arriving Soon.™
In the latest installment in the DAF oversight drama, Congress may now be considering mandatory payouts from DAFs as part of a larger tax reform effort. Earlier this summer, Professors Ray Madoff of Boston College and Roger Colinvaux of Catholic University wrote to the Senate Finance committee to suggest a number of DAF reforms, including a mandatory payout proposal for DAFS (the Madoff/Colinvaux letter can be found here).
This week, the DAFs responded. In their own letter to Senate Finance, a number of DAF sponsors set out the arguments in opposition to a mandatory DAF payout. WealthMangement.com has a good summary of the DAF executive letter here, although I admit I can’t yet find a copy of the letter itself (if anyone has it ... please share if you can!)
Personally, I think that the term “DAF” covers such a wide variety of accounts that a mandatory proposal might be harmful for some and yet not enough regulation for others. But that’s another blog post, or maybe an article ….
Thursday, September 14, 2017
- Nonprofit compensation has gone up over the last year, returning to pre-recession levels; and
- A gender gap persists in nonprofit compensation (not that that is particularly shocking to anyone in the sector, but it is nice to have some evidence to that effect)
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Journalists have a constant interest in charity private benefit stories, particularly ones with a political angle. And unfortunately they seem to be able to find them. Recent reports raising questions about plain vanilla (non-political) private benefit have focused on a variety of donors and charities, including New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, the James G. Martin Memorial Trust in New Hampshire, and billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. But not surprisingly reporters have paid even greater attention to situations relating to politics and politicians, including ones involving the Eric Trump Foundation, Boston mayoral hopeful Tito Jackson, President Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and the Daily Caller News Foundation. These stories are distinct from ones relating to the use (and possible misuse) of charities for political purposes more generally, such as the recent article regarding the David Horwitz Freedom Center.
I should emphasize that none of these situations have resulted so far in any apparent civil or criminal penalties, and in some instances the facts described may not cross any legal lines. Indeed, the only one of these situations that appears to have drawn government scrutiny so far is the one involving the Eric Trump Foundation, which New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has said his office is looking into.
The same cannot be said of three other situations that involve the possible misuse of charitable assets. One, relatively minor situation relates to the admitted access of the Missouri Governor's political campaign to a charity's donor list without apparently the charity's knowledge or permission. Two other situations are more serious in that they each involve hundreds of thousands of dollars. In March, a federal grand jury indicted former U.S. Representative Stephen Stockman and an aide on charges relating to the alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from conservative foundations to fund campaigns and pay for personal expenses. (More coverage: DOJ Press Release.) And last month a federal jury convicted former U.S. Representative Corrine Brown of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a scholarship charity, funds that she then used for her own personal and professional purposes. (More coverage: N.Y. Times.)
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Jonathan Rockoff from the Wall Street Journal brought to light the decline in prostate-cancer drug sales after a federal investigation revealed that drug companies were making huge donations to nonprofits who helped patients cover the expense of these drugs.
According to the article, a mere $1,000,000 donation can lead to upwards of $21,000,000 in additional sales for the drug companies. The article is short, but a very interesting read. Follow the above link to see for yourself.
David A. Brennen