Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, November 23, 2009

The wisdom of establishing an agency to regulate the charitable sector

Helge_Terri Terri Lynn Helge (Associate Professor of Law, Texas Wesleyan University School of Law) has recently posted on SSRN her article entitled Policing the Good Guys: Regulation of the Charitable Sector Through a Federal Charity Oversight Board.

Here is the abstract of her article:

Recently, public confidence in the charitable sector has eroded due to a barrage of media reports on scandals and abuses. The principal parties charged with regulation of the charitable sector, the Internal Revenue Service and state attorneys general, are saddled with bureaucratic constraints that make it difficult to enforce the laws governing the fiduciary responsibilities of charity managers. Substantial reform in the regulation of charitable organizations is necessary to curb the reported abuses that have undermined confidence in the charitable sector.

Some advocate expanding private regulation of the charitable sector to improve enforcement of the fiduciary responsibilities of charitable managers. While some of these private regulatory alternatives have had success in isolated situations, none are satisfactory in providing comprehensive and effective oversight of the charitable sector. Overall, the policies underlying oversight of charitable organizations support maintaining primary responsibility for their regulation in a centralized authority. However, the financial, political, institutional, and agency constraints imposed on the Internal Revenue Service and state attorneys general make them unlikely to implement enough internal reform to be an ongoing, effective enforcement presence in the charitable sector.

This Article advocates the creation of a new, federal, quasi-public agency that would be the principal regulator of the charitable sector. The new agency would be a self-funded, independent, and proactive regulator that would serve the dual purposes of curbing the abuses that have eroded public confidence in the sector and educating charity managers of their obligation to be responsible stewards of charitable resources. The proposed agency would be primarily responsible for enforcing federal tax laws aimed at influencing fiduciary behavior of charity managers and preserving charitable assets for public benefit. Its formation, therefore, would separate oversight of charity governance from the tax collection function, thus harmonizing the United States with other countries that have established independent charity oversight agencies.


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