Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The silence of the bought off

philanthropy 2-1
We learn charity young

In case you wondered, foundations are slime. Or more descriptively, like most other organisms, their real purpose is their own survival and propagation, regardless of what lofty "mission" they may claim.

According to the New York Times on Sunday, April 24:

Charities stand to lose roughly $10 billion a year if the federal estate tax is repealed permanently, according to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. That is roughly the equivalent of all the grants made by the country's 82 largest foundations in 2003.

But while nonprofit groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last year lobbying Congress against imposing tougher regulations on them, on this issue they have been silent. . . .

"About two weeks ago, when we sent out an alert on this, I got some very, very vociferous disagreement from large organizations on the charity side and foundations," [said Diana Aviv, president of the Independent Sector, a large trade association representing charities and foundations.] "People went out of their way to tell me that while they liked my leadership, on this issue I was just dead wrong."

The reason? No one wants to alienate the wealthy donors and board members who would benefit from a repeal.

An awful of the money going into non-profits and philanthropy in this country has nothing to do with the donor wanting the help the needy. Our tax code encourages giving to charity by lowering donors' taxes.

Charity is not much of a tax dodge for ordinary people though. That money you give as "Tax Deductible" doesn't count for anything unless you itemize deductions on your tax return. Even if you do itemize, you only "may deduct contributions representing up to 50% of [your] adjusted gross income." (By the way, corporations get to deduct ALL of what they give.) Even though this is not worth huge amounts to most of us, a lot of us think that somehow money we give that is "tax deductible' is more authentically charitable than money we just give because someone needs it. How about that for a bit of internalized nonsense?

For the really rich, there is another occasion for philanthropy:

The estate tax includes unlimited deductions for charitable giving as a way of helping shield families from inheritance taxes. Eliminating the tax would also eliminate the need for the tax shelter.

After Congress began a temporary and gradual rollback of the tax early in President Bush's first term, there was a $2.8 billion decline in bequests to philanthropies from 2002 to 2003. Critics point to that drop as evidence of the impact that repeal would have on giving. "It was the first decline in bequests since 1998," said Jeff Krehely, deputy director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

When it comes to the big money, we get the charity the rich want to pay for. And their philanthropic playthings, the foundations, know they better shut up about equity and take the handout they can get.

1 comment:

Kimster said...

Interesting, I didn't know anything about the repel before congress. To me "tax deductable" doesn't really mean anything. As you said it only helps the big money makers. We make about 45,000 a year, not enough to list all our giving, and have it impact our taxes. About the only reason I would want to know if a organization is "tax exempt" is I see it as a way to verify the legimacy of a organization.

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