Our local newspaper (weekly) has a variation on the Letter to the Editor. This is called an “Intercepted Letter”. These are letters which you send to someone, usually public officials or businesses, and CC to the newspaper for printing. It is a way of contributing to the public discourse, or putting those officials on the spot on some topic. Sometimes these are public thank-yous for supporting this or that cause. Sometimes, they are a pock-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick for some mis-deed. I recnetly revisted my Charitable Count concept from 2012 while helping my parents with their tax returns. This required sorting through stacks of mail, soliciting requests for money from political (not deductable on 1040 Schedule A) and 503(c) non-profit (deductable) organization. This exercise put me in a generally grumpy disposition on the topic and elicited the following Intercepted Letter to Representative Shelly Moore Capito, and Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin. Interesting, only Senator Manchin acknolwedged receiving my letter, which was also printed this week (4/30/14) in the Moorefiled Examiner.
Dear Senator Rockefeller, Senator Manchin, Representative Capito
Having recently filed my family’s, and assisted with filing my parents’, tax returns, I wish to address my concern about how the Schedule A Charitable Contribution deduction has contributed to corruption within the 503(c) organization system. While I understand that some might see donating to charitable groups as desirable, and this tax deduction generating an incentive for this behavior, I think that the harm that is done out-weights any social good.
In the process of sorting piles of mail from charitable goods seeking donations, and advertising that contributions to them are tax deductible, I am surprised at how many divergent groups have figured out how to qualify for 503(c) status. I could contribute to both side of the aisle on just about any topic. Many of these organizations appear to be thinly veiled political groups which have tweaked their business model to meet the standards. Nearly all of these organizations claim to be advocating for their members by petitioning Congress for grant funding, bringing law suits against government agencies they disagree with, and lobbying or even drafting legislation related to their cause. That is political activity, not charity.
One hazard of allowing tax deductions for charitable behavior is that the government must then define what is charitable. This where the IRS got in trouble last year, when scrutinizing Tea Party affiliates, who were seeking 503(c) status. This is akin to the debates during the early years of our Constitution. At that time, state delegates to the Constitutional Convention debated whether to fund churches, as these were generally seen as beneficial to society.
Ben Franklin’s opinion was that government should not financially support any church, let alone any specific denomination. “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself, and when it does not support itself, and God does not take to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help from the civil powers, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of being a bad one.” Granted the state supporting a church is a different from a charitable group.
But, all charitable groups are in essence advocating a belief system. This might be family planning or protecting unborn children, environmental protection or energy exploration and extraction, progressive development of society or preservation of individual rights to make decisions. I would advocate eliminating the charitable contribution deduction, so that people could make their donations free of the confines of government definitions of what is charitable.
James Madison added similar sentiments during these debates. “The Religion of every man must be left up to the convictions and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature is an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinion of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men.” Liberty of thought and action should not be influenced, even subtly by government tax incentives.
I received only one reply from Senator Manchin. But, Rockefeller is stepping down from his office, and Capito is running for his seat. They probably do not want to take on any controversial, or side issues right now.
Dear Mr. Larson,
Thank you for contacting my office and for sharing your concerns about the charitable contribution tax deduction. Hearing from West Virginians is very important to me, and I truly appreciate your input on this issue.
Please feel free to contact one of my staff, Clayton Crabtree, who works on tax issues, directly at (202) 224-3954 if you would like to discuss your concerns further.
Again, thank you for taking the time to add your voice to this important discussion.
With warmest regards,
Joe Manchin III
Unites States Senator