Taxes and Foundations: A 50th Anniversary Overview

Brief

Taxes and Foundations: A 50th Anniversary Overview

Abstract

Pervading the history and tax laws applying to foundations is a persistent suspicion of the wealthy and of concentrated power, while the battles between foundations and Congress largely center on who has control over the uses of wealth. Foundation laws, and by extension, laws proposed or enacted for donor advised funds and other charities, often develop on the basis of the administrative expedience possible with regulating endowments, but not reserves, real estate, and other assets. One consequence is wide inconsistency in actual and proposed tax treatment of wealth held across the charitable sector. Legislative actions also cannot be separated from catalysts in the wider political economy. While the 1969 legislation that still drives much of the current tax treatment of foundations is widely considered to have successfully limited abuses, it is not without its warts. Continued debates over the control of the use of endowments must carefully address administrative feasibility, efficiency, equity across charitable institutions, and whether the wealthy would exert even more control over society if reforms led them to hold more wealth privately by contributing less to charity.

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