The Campaign Spot

How Can Obama Justify Taking $4 Billion or More From America’s Charities?

E. J. Dionne, writing on the Washington Post’s editorial page, on Obama’s plan to reduce the tax deduction for charitable donations:

Yet even this modest effort to raise money to pay for health-care reform is falling under a hail of fire from those who say the president wants to hurt private charities. Obama was quite right when he said at his news conference that the effect of this change on charitable giving would be small: Using 2007 figures, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Obama’s change would reduce charitable contributions only marginally — from $306 billion to $302 billion.

In other words, the President only wants to take $4 billion away from America’s charities.

A story on the Washington Post’s news page:

But a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said total charitable contributions would decline by about 1.3 percent, while the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University calculated that overall giving would drop by 2.1 percent. The highest-income households would decrease their giving by 4.8 percent, or $3.87 billion, the latter group found.

“Charities and the public need to understand that in the current economic environment, which is creating difficulty for some nonprofits and their constituents already, this public policy change is likely to have an additional negative effect,” said Patrick M. Rooney, the philanthropy center’s interim executive director…

Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, a national coalition of charities, said any decrease in charitable giving caused by Obama’s proposal, no matter how small, would be “seen as a stake in the heart.”

“With all other means of income down, the idea that there will be another potential cut to the income of those nonprofit organizations feels catastrophic,” Aviv said. “It is utterly unacceptable.” . . .

Dean A. Zerbe, managing director of Alliant Group and a former senior tax counsel to the Senate Finance Committee who closely tracks the nonprofit sector, said he has no doubt that Obama’s proposal would change wealthy donors’ behavior.

“Of course it’s going to affect behavior,” he said. “The charities recognize that. Everyone does. . . . People just don’t have their feet on their ground if they’re not recognizing that reality.”

But Obama said Tuesday night those charities that claimed the tax change would hurt them are wrong.

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