Charity? It shouldn't pay to give

Out There

April 07, 2009|By Joel Stein

President Barack Obama wants to take money away from charities. Which is awesome. Only he doesn't go far enough.

His proposal would allow rich people to deduct only 28 percent of their charitable donations instead of 35 percent. 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 given to some, including a bunch where a friend was helping some group by either running, biking, bowling or growing a mustache. I think I may have once given $100 to a taunting-chimpanzees-a-thon for lupus.

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. In 2006, charitable contributions cost honest taxpayers an extra $40 billion.

Less than 10 percent 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. Meanwhile, people who actually volunteer their time get no tax benefit.

The money we'd save with Mr. Obama's change would help pay for health care. If we got rid of the deduction entirely, we could even use the money to save another large, poorly run industry. Like newspapers.

Joel Stein is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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