#  Not All Charities Are Equal →

July 9th, 2008 | In Worth Considering, Worth Reading 

Citing Leona Helmsley’s generous-sounding donation to dogs, Ryan Madoff take offense at something most people happily forget:

The charitable deduction enables people to donate as much of their assets as they like for charitable purposes without paying a tax. While some choose to contribute to broad public goals, the law does not require it. In recent years, charitable status has been recognized for organizations with purposes as idiosyncratic as promoting excellence in quilting and educating the public about Huey military aircraft. Indeed, Mrs. Helmsley might have limited her beneficence to the Maltese breed of dogs she favored, and that, too, would have been allowed as a “charitable” purpose.

If this were only a matter of Leona Helmsley wasting her own money, no one would need to care. But she is wasting ours too.

The charitable deduction constitutes a subsidy from the federal government. The government, in effect, makes itself a partner in every charitable bequest. In Mrs. Helmsley’s case, given that her fortune warranted an estate tax rate of 45 percent, her $8 billion donation for dogs is really a gift of $4.4 billion from her and $3.6 billion from you and me.

To put it in perspective, our contribution to Mrs. Helmsley’s cause equals approximately half of what we spend on Head Start, a program that benefits 900,000 children.

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