Obama’s charitable deduction reduction hurts us all

Obama’s charitable deduction reduction hurts us all


As part of his proposed 2010 budget, President Obama trots out the old liberal playbook and takes a few more whacks at the “rich”, i.e. those who make more $250,000 per year. I put that in quotation marks because that category includes a very large proportion of the small business owners in this country, people who pour much of what they earn into their businesses and also into our society through charitable giving. They are not the enemy to be be denuded of property on which we, the “lower classes”, stake a claim out of jealousy and pettiness.

One element of the Obama budget’s attack on the “rich” is the reduction of the deduction for charitable giving. This will have an impact on many people who aren’t the so-called “wealthy” class. That’s because philanthropy by the wealthy is a backbone of charitable giving in this country. Yes, every gift matters, from the widow’s mite on up to the multi-million dollar gifts. But it’s those large gifts, the ones typically given by those in the top tax bracket, that often have the most far-ranging impact. Think of the hospitals whose emergency rooms or surgical centers or pediatric wards were paid for by large single donations. Think of the food pantries who raise support from many folks because a philanthropist offers to match every donation up to the tens of thousands of dollars. Think of the university laboratories researching disease cures, paid for by the generosity of wealthy alumni. Yes, those gifts of $10, $50, $100, or $1,000 given by the vast majority of people make up the bread and butter income of those charities, but it’s the very large gifts that enable the extraordinary actions of charities.

And while I can’t go into detail in this area—because I work for the fundraising office of an archdiocese—let me tell you that every parish, every diocese, every parochial school will likewise be affected by this. What happens to the Church’s presence in the world when generous donors can no longer afford to give?

That’s right, they can’t afford it. If you look at how the wealthy are already penalized for their earnings, you realize that if they want to sustain their legacy through their own companies and their families, if they want what they have built to survive beyond themselves, they rely on provisions within the ever-more byzantine tax code to offer incentives to support those charities.

So why would the liberals want to undermine such charitable giving? It’s not just the fact that so many of the leading Democrat politicians actually don’t give generously of their own wealth—think of the revelations of John Kerry’s minuscule charitable giving before he began looking at running for president or the Clintons’ infamous itemizing of their gifts of underwear and used shower curtains to charity. Or even Barack Obama, who gave much less than the national average to charity before he began his preparation for running for president in 2005. And these are all people whose income puts them among the ranks of the wealthy they so disparage.

No, it goes even deeper into ideology. Such an attitude betrays the big-government mindset of liberals who are convinced that only government funding—and thus oversight and control—can properly fulfill the role that charities have always filled. Even now many charities subsist to a large degree on fat government contracts to provide social services. So why should the wealthy be free to direct their own wealth to the charities for which they have an affinity, or which they believe do the greatest good, or which uphold the values they profess themselves, when the liberals could control all that money through government spending priorities. And when they control the money, they can push forward their efforts to re-engineer society to their own liking and ideology.

The reduction of the charitable giving deduction for the “wealthy” will have negative consequences for all of us, not just the wealthy, just as class warfare based in greed and jealousy will continue to erode society’s bonds and raise more fractures and fault lines.

Photo caption: An illustration of James 1:27 via Wikimedia Commons. Used with permission.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli