Jobs, criminal reform, and immigration may be the hot-button issues of the presidential campaign's news cycle, but one group is trying to draw the candidates’ attention to the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.
Last week, the Charitable Giving Coalition—an industry interest group representing private charities and public foundations—sent open letters to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, urging them both to uphold the charitable deduction in their respective tax plans.
The letter claims that “any proposal to limit, cap, or eliminate the charitable deduction would have devastating effects on nonprofits and society” and that Americans will reduce their charitable giving if the charitable deduction is curtailed or eliminated. The Charitable Giving Coalition estimates that charities would lose $9.4 billion in revenue in the first year of a charitable deduction capped at 28 percent. The group also suggests that eliminating the charitable deduction would cost the economy $40 billion.
Clinton’s tax plan promises to maintain the status quo with respect to the charitable deduction. Trump’s plan would place limitations on the deduction for the highest-earning Americans. For that reason, Trump has drawn sharp criticism from many voices in the philanthropic and nonprofit establishment. At the same time, it is to be remembered that the charitable deduction—as currently structured—is only available to those Americans who itemize their deductions and these are by and large people with the highest incomes.
The Charitable Giving Coalition’s letter did urge the implementation of an “above-the-line deduction” whereby charitable donations “would be subtracted before arriving at adjusted gross income,” thereby creating “a charitable giving incentive for all taxpayers, not just those who itemize their deductions.”
While this proposal begins to address the problem of inequality inherent in the charitable deduction provision (only a small portion of the wealthiest Americans can take advantage of the deduction), it does not address the more fundamental problem of a supposedly independent civil sector that is ultimately beholden to the government, its tax code, and its agents of tax enforcement.