Not so sweet charity
President Obama wants to take money away from charities. Which is awesome. Only he doesn’t go far enough.
His proposal, which Republicans and Democrats both hate, would force rich people to deduct only 28% of their charitable donations, instead of 35%. This change would have two obvious disadvantages: It’s boring and requires math. A simpler solution would be to eliminate everyone’s tax break for donations.
Now, I like charities. I’ve even, after drinking heavily, given to some, such as CARE, Kiva, Partners in Health and a bunch of ones where a friend was helping some group by either running, biking, bowling or growing a mustache. Though I never understood why that was better than asking me for a donation and shutting up about the fun activity. I think I may have once given $100 to a taunting-chimpanzees-a-thon for lupus.
The idea behind the tax break is that you give $1 to a good cause and the government kicks back 28 cents on your tax bill. This is also the government’s scheme for getting you to buy toxic assets, only in that case you pay $1 and the government gives you $14.
The problem with even a 28-cent contribution from the government is that we all then have 28 cents less in tax revenue. Which essentially means I am being forced to give my money to the charity of your choice. And if I’ve learned anything from rich people’s wills, the charity of your choice is either a cat, a stripper or, I’m guessing at least once, a stripper cat.
The charity of your choice, as important as it may be, is not what taxes are for. Taxes are for whatever we all agree is absolutely necessary. Like paying Halliburton to make people in the Mideast hate us more.
By allowing charity deductions, I have to pay more in taxes so you can support causes I didn’t get to approve of through my vote. In 2006, that was $40 billion more we had to pay, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University adds up our charitable giving every year. The biggest chunk, about 33%, goes to religious organizations, which blurs the line between church and state by covering it with lots of money. And while churches do help the needy, they also spend money on preaching, evangelizing and building the kind of giant, high-ceilinged, marble-heavy houses that got us into this fiscal crisis. Giving to a church might sound great at first, but now picture that church as someone else’s church.
Less than 10% of charity money goes toward basic human needs. That’s because a lot of people contribute to things that also benefit them. Schools get the second- biggest part of charity dollars, which means donations to Harvard, Stanford and Exeter, which is kind of like donating money to money.
We’re also subsidizing operas, museums and political causes. Every weekend, people in Malibu and the Hamptons are holding balls, dinners and silent auctions that I’m catering. And according to the wording of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 501(c)(3), acceptable tax-deductible charities include any “national or international amateur sports competition.” I do not mean to cause a panic, but I believe this may include soccer.
Meanwhile, people who actually volunteer their time get no tax benefit. And despite what movies have taught them, they never hook up with hot chicks there either.
Taxes aren’t a punishment you can get out of by donating money. Taxes are our necessary contribution to the country. The money we’d save with Obama’s tiny change would help pay for healthcare. If we got rid of the charity deduction entirely, we could even use the money to save another large, poorly run industry. Like perhaps newspapers.
Everyone should get to keep as much of their money as possible, and spend it however they want to, whether that’s on feeding the homeless or stripper cats. Like all government subsidies, the charity deduction interferes with that freedom. People should donate to their church not because the government is a partner in it, but because they truly believe it will help get them into heaven.