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The Company They Keep: Tax Tit Deductions, the Right, & Big Whine Charities

New Orleans    So you might ask in all of the hoopla as the USA went over the fiscal cliff, what happened to the charitable deductions that I have written about several times?

Well, there were some modest changes because some ceilings were place on the value of personal exemptions and itemized deductions for high-income tax filers making over $250,000 for individuals and $300,000 for couples.  This in fact was one of the so-called “wins” for the President since he did get some more tax justice by recovering some tax from such families even as many of the Bush-era tax breaks with some tweaks have now become permanent.  According to a chart in the Wall Street Journal the other day, this was extremely important and will yield $150 billion in new revenue to the government over the next 10 years.   These changes for those higher income families affect things like mortgage interest deductions, state tax offsets, and for those who bother to make any, their charitable deductions.

Predictably some of the old Bushies are yelping.  Ari Fleischer, George W’s old press secretary, wrote a crazy convoluted op-ed in the Journal slapping at tax justice and equity in a predictable response.  The embarrassing part of all of this is to read his argument as he peers around the smokescreen is what the right is building out of these minor changes in the charitable deduction allowances.  Fleischer argues that it’s true that people should give to charities out of the “goodness of their heart,” but then also whimpers that now he has less to give and defends his position with quotes from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the anti-tax justice Charitable Giving Coalition of big time, big whine charities.

The Journal the day before had a similarly confusing statement from Diana Aviv, head of the Independent Sector, which claims to represent foundations (which are really tax shelters for the rich, let’s remember!), nonprofits (the mega-sized ones at least), and other charitable groups (huh?).  She wondered out loud what would happen now to her sugar daddies.  Leading with her mouth rather than her other parts of her noggin, she commented that in light of the increased tax rates on the rich and the caps on deductions for those with high incomes, “The big question for us now is, if we are increasing rates on folks…does the combination create a greater disincentive for people to give?”   A more sober and less self-interested observer, a J.P. Morgan analyst, Michael Feroli, was then quoted by the Journal with a prediction that “the new tax-break limits ‘should not directly affect…giving to charities or taking on more mortgage debt.”

WTF?!?

What kind of world are we now working in where Diane Aviv and Ari Fleischer are doing the group hug with big-time, big-whine charities who are – and make no mistake about this – opposing a more equitable tax system?  This is all about their narrow, self-interest and not about the public interest whatsoever!  And, when we have to find comfort and calm from J.P. Morgan while the Cassandras are screaming, we are really going over a cliff.

What are they thinking?  When we have to have more revenue in order to protect the very real survival of critical welfare, health, education, and support systems and entitlements in this country for all our citizens, how can any nonprofit argue that their own programs or mission is more important than the common good?!?  When achieving this also brings more justice and fairer distribution to the United States, which has been moving rapidly towards becoming one of the most economically unequal societies in the world, this is a big win.   The Chronicle of Philanthropy should start writing a cover piece on this failure of nonprofit leadership in these times.

Here is the most bitter irony that we will have to hear and swallow soon.  These same nonprofits and their lobbyists, like Aviv, will soon be whining that they need more money, because government is curtialing services and support for the poor and other impacted groups the charities were claiming to help.  I wonder if any of them will ever realize then that they should have been lobbying for more tax justice in order to protect and expand all of these programs, not just trying to cover their own fat asses and paychecks.            

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