McConnell: ‘Congress should preserve the full deduction for charitable donations’

‘These organizations are hurting enough. The administration doesn’t need to hit them up for more tax revenue while they’re down’

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor Thursday regarding the damaging effect the President’s Budget will have on charities:

“Americans are focused on a number of important issues at the moment relating the economy and the administration’s response to it. But it would be a mistake in the midst of all these immediate concerns to take our eye off the administration’s long-term economic plan as outlined in its Budget. The American people already have an idea that this Budget spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much — particularly in the midst of a severe recession. They’re also concerned about the staggering number of things the administration is trying to do. Still, it’s important to look closely at the details of the administration’s long-term Budget plan so people have an idea of what’s coming.

“Over the past two weeks, Republicans have discussed the spending side of the Budget, and some of the massive new taxes the Budget calls for on energy use and on small businesses. Today, I’d like to briefly discuss another element of the tax plan — and that’s the proposal to limit the benefit that taxpayers receive for making charitable donations to non-profits and charitable organizations.

“Let’s be clear about something from the outset: this is not something only Republicans oppose. This proposal has been met with wide bipartisan opposition in Congress — and widespread criticism from the many thousands of organizations that would be adversely affected by it.

“With a challenged economy already causing endowments at colleges and universities, charities, museums and other non-profits to shrivel up, the last thing America’s non-profit organizations expected was for the administration to introduce another disincentive to charitable giving. And many of them, including many from opposite ends of the political spectrum, are uniting in strong opposition to the administration’s proposal. One reason: according to a February survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education, college and university endowments lost more than 20 percent of their value in a recent five-month period largely as a result of the plunging stock market. The administration’s proposal is a bad one at any time. But now is the worst time of all.

“Earlier this week, I received a letter on this very proposal from the President of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky. He said the University has worked hard over the past year to increase its support from charitable gifts, and that they’ve had a lot of success. He also noted that WKU is in the middle of a major annual fundraising campaign to increase opportunities for students, and that 95 percent of the total will come from the generosity of fewer than 500 donors.

“The message was clear: the importance of major gifts to Western Kentucky University and to thousands of other colleges and universities across the country is impossible to overstate. And disincentivizing those gifts would strike a serious blow to every one of these institutions.

“There’s another important aspect of this issue, and it’s one that President Gary Ransdell at WKU pointed out in his letter. Americans are known the world over for their generosity. That generosity was encouraged by the creation of the charitable gift deduction in the early part of the last century, and that deduction is one of the reasons that Americans gave more than $300 billion to charitable causes in 2007, and that roughly 75 percent of those donations, or $229 billion, came from individuals.

“One of the things Americans are most proud of is that no other industrialized nation in the world gives more to charity than the United States. It’s not even close: As a share of our GDP, Americans give more than twice as much as Britain, and 10 times more than France. Seven out of 10 American households donate to charities, supporting a wide range of religious, educational, cultural, health care, and environmental goals. This is something to be proud of, not to discourage.

“So Americans from all walks of life — and both political parties — are worried about this proposal.

“They don’t understand why charitable organizations and the people they serve should suffer in order to pay for new or expanded government programs. According to one study, this proposal could lead to $9 billion less in charitable giving each year. That’s less money for places like Western Kentucky University, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, hospitals, churches, food pantries, and countless other causes that are worthy of our support.

“These organizations are hurting enough. The administration doesn’t need to hit them up for more tax revenue while they’re down — and it doesn’t need to blunt one of the things that Americans are most proud of — and that’s their generosity.

“The following quote, attributed to President John F. Kennedy, sums up the way most Americans feel about this issue, and it captures my own sentiments as well: ‘The raising of extraordinarily large sums of money, given voluntarily and freely by millions of our fellow Americans, is a unique American tradition ... Philanthropy, charity, giving voluntarily and freely... call it what you like, but it is truly a jewel of an American tradition.’

“Charities provide a valuable public service to society’s most vulnerable citizens. Now more than ever these organizations need our help. This plan to disincentivize charitable giving is wrong. And many of us on both sides of the aisle will be working hard to make sure it doesn’t become law. Congress should preserve the full deduction for charitable donations and look for additional ways to encourage charitable giving, not discourage it.”