Thursday, February 4, 2016
David Cay Johnston (Syracuse) published " Was Involvement of Private Foundation in Trump Event Illegal?" in the February 1st 1edition of TaxAnalysts:
Did Donald Trump violate the law January 28 by involving his private foundation in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination?
Maybe -- and maybe not, according to three practitioners specializing in the nexus of tax and nonprofit law. But all agreed that Trump's actions put front and center why Congress needs to take a serious look at the growing connections between the charitable world and partisan politics, with a focus on what will make for sound policy.
Trump clearly used the charitable foundation under his control to further his campaign for the White House. But that may not be illegal.
Other politicians -- including the Clintons, the Kennedys, and the Rockefellers -- have or had foundations that they control. However, the politicians in those families did not hold campaign rallies to raise money for their charities while running for office.
Still, the existence of those foundations has sometimes led to controversy. The receipt of gifts to the Clinton Foundation, especially from foreign governments when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, has drawn sharp rebuke from some Republicans and calls for an investigation.
(Hat tip: TaxProfBlog)
Mecox v. U.S—District Court Denies Deduction for Façade Easement Donation; Deed Recorded in Wrong Year and Appraisal Untimely
In Mecox Partners LP v. U.S., _ F. Supp. _ (S.D.N.Y. 2016), the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York sustained the IRS’s complete disallowance of a $2.21 million deduction that Mecox claimed with regard to a façade easement donated to the National Architectural Trust (NAT). The court determined that the easement had not been contributed in the year for which Mecox claimed the deduction and the appraisal Mecox obtained to substantiate the deduction was untimely. The building subject to the façade easement is a certified historic structure located on Jane Street in New York’s Greenwich Village Historic District.
A representative of each of Mecox and NAT signed the façade easement in December 2004 and Mecox claimed a $2.21 million deduction for the donation on its 2004 partnership tax return. However, the easement was not recorded until November 17th, 2005, almost one year later. The IRS disallowed the claimed deduction in full, arguing that (i) the contribution was not made until 2005, the year in which the easement was recorded, and (ii) the appraisal was not timely because it was made more than 60 days before the date of the contribution in violation of Treasury Regulation § 1.170A-13(c)(3)(i). The District Court held for the IRS on both counts.
Contribution Not Made Until Easement Recorded
The District Court found that, as a matter of law, Mecox had not made a charitable contribution of the façade easement in 2004 because the easement was not effective until it was recorded in November 2005. The court first noted the fundamental principle that “[i]n a federal tax controversy, state law governs the taxpayer’s interest in the property while federal law determines the tax consequences of that interest.” The court then explained that, under New York law, an instrument purporting to create a conservation easement is not effective unless it is recorded. See N.Y. Envt'l Conservation Law § 49-0305(4) ("An instrument for the purpose of creating ... a conservation easement shall not be effective unless recorded"). The court further explained
although “[o]rdinarily, a contribution is made at the time delivery is effected,” ... the Deed of Easement had no legal effect when Mecox delivered it to the NAT in 2004. It was not until the Deed was recorded the following year that the Deed became effective, and the Easement was conveyed. Consequently, Mecox erred in taking a deduction for a qualified conservation contribution in 2004.
In support of this holding the District Court referenced two earlier cases involving façade easements donated to NAT with respect to New York properties: Zarlengo v. Comm’r and Rothman v. Comm’r. In each case, the Tax Court determined that the contribution date was the recordation date, not the date on which the easement was signed by the donor and NAT.
The District Court further explained in a footnote that:
Even if the Court were to accept that the contribution date of the Easement was the delivery date of the Deed, regardless of whether the Deed was effective at that point, the Easement still did not satisfy the Code’s definition of a “qualified conservation contribution” … until 2005. This is because a “qualified conservation contribution” must be made “exclusively for conservation purposes.” … This means that the contribution must be “protected in perpetuity,” … and thus “subject to legally enforceable restrictions,” …. But the Easement contribution was not even effective between the parties until it was recorded. Therefore, regardless of when the Easement is considered to have been contributed, the Easement did not meet the [Internal Revenue] Code’s substantive requirements of what constitutes a “qualified conservation contribution” until the Deed of Easement was recorded in 2005.
The District Court’s holding is consistent with the IRS’s position on recordation set forth in the Conservation Easement Audit Techniques Guide. The Guide instructs that the complete deed of conservation easement (including all exhibits or attachments, such as a description of the easement restrictions, diagrams, and lender agreements) must be recorded in the appropriate recordation office in the county where the property is located and, under state law, an easement is not enforceable in perpetuity before it is recorded. The Guide further instructs that the effective date of the gift is the recording date.
Mecox’s Alternative Arguments
Mecox argued in the alternative that, because the easement did not specifically reference the New York conservation easement enabling statute, that statute did not apply and the easement was a common law restrictive covenant that does not require recordation to be effective. The court dismissed that argument, finding that there was “no question” that the easement fell under the New York enabling statute’s definition of a conservation easement. The court explained that the deed repeatedly employed the term “conservation easement,” the deed satisfied the terms of the enabling statute, and the easement described in the deed “fits squarely” within the enabling statute’s definition of a conservation easement. The court noted that nothing in the New York enabling statute suggests that the statute must be explicitly referenced by name in order for the statute to apply. The court also was not aware of a single case in which a conservation easement that satisfied the terms of the enabling statute was interpreted as a common law restrictive covenant. The court concluded that the façade easement reflected “an unambiguous intent by the parties to create a conservation easement, as defined by [New York’s enabling statute]… and… Mecox’s after-the-fact, subjective claims to the contrary are immaterial."
Mecox also argued that, even if the New York conservation easement enabling statute applied to the façade easement, recordation was not required for the easement conveyance to be effective—i.e., recordation was required only for the easement to be effective against subsequent purchasers of the subject property. The court dismissed this argument as well, noting that such an interpretation was in direct contradiction to the plain text of the enabling statute, which states, without qualification, that (i) “a conservation easement shall be duly recorded” and (ii) an unrecorded conservation easement “shall not be effective.” See N.Y. Envt'l Conservation Law § 49-0305(4). The court explained that conservation easements in New York are subject to special rules, which include, among other things, the benefit of certain defenses not granted to common law easements and a requirement that the conveyance be recorded to be effective.
Even in states other than New York, the donor of a façade (or conservation) easement should see to it that the easement is recorded in the year in which the donor intends to claim the donation was made. Absent recordation of an easement, a purchaser of the subject property who records the purchase deed will generally take the property free of the easement. Thus, until recordation, the property generally will not be “subject to legally enforceable restrictions” as required by Treasury Regulation 1.170A-14(g)(1), and the conservation purpose of the contribution will not be “protected in perpetuity” as required by Internal Revenue Code § 170(h)(5)(A). See Zarlengo v. Comm’r. Cf. Gorra v. Comm’r (façade easement delivered to recorder’s office on December 28, 2006, but not recorded until January 18, 2007, was deemed recorded in 2006; under N.Y. Real Prop. Law § 317, delivery of the deed to the recorder’s office, with receipt acknowledged, constituted recordation, even though there was a delay in the actual recording until the following year because of a cover sheet error).
The date on which an easement contribution is deemed to have been made is also relevant for purposes of ensuring that the appraisal obtained to substantiate the deduction is timely.
To substantiate the value of a conservation easement for purposes of the federal charitable income deduction, the taxpayer must obtain a “qualified appraisal” of the easement prepared by a “qualified appraiser” no earlier than 60 days before the contribution date of the easement and no later than the extended due date of the tax return claiming the deduction. See Treasury Regulation § 1.170A-13(c)(3). In Mecox, the appraisal of the easement was dated June 13, 2005, and it stated that the value of the easement as of November 1, 2004, was $2.21 million. The court found that the appraisal was “conducted” on June 13, 2005, and the façade easement was not contributed until November 17, 2005, the date on which it was recorded (5 months later). Accordingly, the appraisal “took place” more than 60 days before the contribution date of the easement, and Mecox thus failed to satisfy the substantiation requirements for the deduction.
Mecox is yet another in a line of cases involving challenges to deductions claimed with regard to façade easements donated to NAT:
- Herman v. Comm'r
- 1982 East LLC v. Comm'r
- Dunlap v. Comm'r
- Rothman v. Comm'r
- Graev v. Comm'r
- Friedberg v. Comm'r
- Kaufman v. Comm'r
- Gorra v. Comm'r
- 61 York Acquisition v. Comm'r
- Chandler v. Comm'r
- Scheidelman v. Comm'r
- Zarlengo v. Comm'r
- Reisner v. Comm'r
NAT also was the subject of a 2011 Department of Justice lawsuit (discussed here) alleging that NAT was engaged in abusive practices. The suit settled with NAT denying the allegations but agreeing to a permanent injunction prohibiting it from engaging in the practices.
Nancy A. McLaughlin, Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
As reported by CBS News in its three-part investigation, The Wounded Warrior Project is being criticized for the amount it actually spends on projects that benefit veterans, for which the charity has raised nearly a billion dollars since 2003. As many as 40 former employees were interviewed by CBS News and roundly criticized the Project for wasteful spending practices and not living up to its mission of serving the needs of veterans. For example, since the current CEO took office in 2009, the Project's conferences and meetings expenditures increased from $1.7 million in 2010 to $26 million in 2014. Although the Project claims its spends 80% of their donations on veterans' programs, only 54% to 60% of such funds actually reach wounded service members after promotional items, advertising and shipping/postage costs are subtracted, according to CBS News. In 2014, the CEO was paid $496,415, which is not out of line with similarly-sized charities according to the news report. In addition, the charity has a large $248 million surplus, which CharityWatch, a charity evaluator, argues should be spent more on veterans programs. Because of these findings, Charity Navigator, another independent charity evaluator, placed the Project on its Watchlist.
The Project has objected to the findings, posting a statement to its website referring to CBSNews's "false news reports" and, according to the above news reports, is a vocal critic of charity evaluators like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator. According to The Washington Post, the Project has promised a "thorough financial and policy review."
Kadir Nagac (Zirve University, Department of Economics) has posted "Religiosity and Tax Compliance" to SSRN:
The intention of this paper is to analyze religiosity as a factor that potentially affects tax compliance. Studies in the 90s have shown that the puzzle of tax compliance is "why so many individuals pay their taxes" and not "why people evade taxes". It has been noted that compliance cannot be explained entirely by the level of enforcement (Graetz and Wilde, 1985; Efflers, 1991). Countries set the levels of audit and penalty so low that most individuals would evade taxes, if they were rational, because it is unlikely that cheaters will be caught and penalized. Nevertheless, a high degree of compliance is observed. Therefore, studies that analyze a variety of factors other than detection and punishment are need. Religiosity can play an important role in determining one's tax compliance decision. I use religious adherence data from the American Religious Data Archive and reported income data from IRS to analyze independent effects of church adherence rates on tax compliance in the United States at the county-level. Tax compliance at the county-level is measured as discrepancy in reported income between IRS data and census data. Existing studies focus on effect of religiosity on tax fraud acceptability (tax morale), not the actual tax fraud or tax compliance behavior. To writer's knowledge, this study is the first study that analyzes the effect of religiosity on actual tax compliance behavior.
(Hat tip: TaxProfBlog)
As published in the Daily Tax Report, at the ABA Tax Section meeting last week, Andrew Morton, a partner at Handler Thayer LLP, opined that a good number of "high-profile charitable foundations" need substantially more oversight and legal assistance than they are currently receiving. He clarified that the neglect of these organizations is not malicious or deliberate: "Not because they are deliberately trying to manipulate the system, not because they're trying to do anything wrong, they just don't know. They don't get that a nonprofit is a corporation … it's a real thing. You have to take care of it.” He explained that most of the problems that arise with such celebrity-affiliated foundations are due to a lack of written policies, such as conflict-of-interest and whistle-blower situations, and the lack of reporting those policies on the foundations' annual Forms 990. In addition, these foundations are typically not aware of charitable registration requirements, which are governed by the states: “501(c)(3) is an adjective—not a noun. You don't have a 501(c)(3). You have a state nonprofit corporation, which has been conferred tax-exempt status from the federal government,” he explained. “There are 51 jurisdictions that require compliance for nonprofits. The federal government has their requirements, but every state has a different landscape.”
John George Archer (Law Student, Mississippi) has posted "This SOX: Combating Public Charity Fraud with Sarbanes-Oxley" to SSRN:
In the wake of the corporate scandals of the Enron era, Congress delivered the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) to bolster confidence in our nation’s financial system. To save the system and protect the investing public from corporate abusers, Congress created a capable “toolkit” within SOX to fight fraud and enhance disclosure. Sarbanes-Oxley has been effective in stemming the tide of corporate malfeasance. Currently, only for-profit, publicly traded companies are subject to SOX. But corporate fraud does not stop at the door of the nonprofit world. Fraud within nonprofit corporations is a widespread problem, and nonprofits – particularly large public charities – share many similarities (the good and the bad) with their for-profit cousins. By drawing a parallel comparison between large public charities and publicly traded companies, this Article makes the case that the strong governance principles encapsulated by Sarbanes-Oxley should also be imposed on large public charities.
While others have either argued against applying SOX to nonprofits or have cautiously advocated this approach because of the diverse and varying missions of nonprofits, this article particularly singles out large public charities and demonstrates that SOX is an ideal regulator for this group. While state governments and the IRS both engage in nonprofit regulation, the current regime suffers from a lack of resources and enforcement measures to be truly effective. This is where SOX can help. So much of what Sarbanes-Oxley accomplishes is self-reporting and a governance structure that promotes independence and transparency. Because of this, Sarbanes-Oxley is considered best practices for large entities, and is voluntarily followed by many public charities.
Extending SOX would not be as large a leap as previously imagined. The parallel to large public charities is this: there is a disconnect between the stakeholders of a nonprofit and its directors and management. Within this gap lies the great potential for abuse and fraud. The economic impact of the nonprofit sector upon the American economy is no small thing, much less its social impact. To protect this vulnerable system and combat nonprofit abuse, this Article contends that Congress should take notice of the problem and address it using the same “toolkit” it already created when it addressed fraud among publicly traded companies.
(University of Richmond - School of Law) recently posted her forthcoming article, Publicity Rules For Public Trusts, Cardozo Arts & Entertainment L. J., Vol. 33, 2015 to SSRN. Below is an abstract of Professor Tait's article:
That museums are public trusts is a truism in academic discourse and industry discussion. What various commentators mean when they speak about museums as public trusts, however, is less clear. This Article untangles and analyzes the various meanings of “public trust” and how these meanings translate into regulatory systems. I propose that two predominant meanings - the public resource and trust law meanings - jointly constitute the definition of a public trust, and that each meaning has a consequent regulatory framework. These definitional and regulatory frameworks coexist without conflict in most contexts. In the context of deaccessioning, however, they collide.
Deaccessioning - the practice of a museum selling art from its collection - is highly contested because it is perceived to be a significant violation of the public trust, in all meanings of the term. Nonetheless, public resource and trust law rules treat deaccessioning quite differently. Public resource rules, exemplified by industry standards and state statutes, strictly prohibit the use of deaccessioning funds for any purposes other than to purchase new art. Trust law rules, on the other hand, work primarily to ensure that the terms of organizational charters, trust instruments, and gift agreements are met. One goal of this Article is to identify and describe the public resource and trust law frameworks. A second goal is to leverage the debate surrounding deaccessioning as a means for discussing how the two frameworks compete and why the trust law framework, enhanced by the addition of corporate governance principles and grounded in “publicity” values, is preferable.
Alyssa A. DiRusso (Samford University - Cumberland School of Law) recently published, Euthanizing Small Charities: The Threat of Small Trust Termination Statutes, 45 Cumberland L. Rev. 475 (2015). Below is the abstract of Professor DiRusso's article:
With the widespread adoption of the Uniform Trust Code, many American states are enacting statutes that grant a trustee full discretion to terminate a trust on the sole ground that it has too little money to justify administrative expenses. This Article argues that there are two key costs of terminating small charities: depleting democracy in philanthropy and shrinking diversity in charitable focus. To support these claims of harm to democracy and diversity in charity, the Article reviews empirical evidence mined from tax returns: first, on disparity between charitable goals of the well-funded trust and the less-so, and second, on diversity of focus in smaller versus larger charities. The analysis reveals that smaller charities do tend to have different substantive primary goals than larger charities and that smaller charities do demonstrate more variety in focus than larger charities. We therefore may threaten democratic and diverse charity when terminating small charitable trusts, and ought to be reluctant to put our smaller charities to sleep.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Route 231, LLC v. Comm’r – 4th Circuit Affirms Allocation of 97% of Tax Credits Generated by Conservation Donations to 1% Partner Was Disguised Sale
In Route 231, LLC v. Comm'r, __ F.3d _ (4th Cir. 2016), the 4th Circuit affirmed that Tax Court’s holding that a partnership’s transfer to a 1% partner of 97% of state tax credits generated by donations of conservation easements and land was a taxable disguised sale under IRC § 707. The 1% partner had contributed $3.8 million to the partnership and the partnership had treated the transaction as a capital contribution followed by an allocation of tax credits to the 1% partner. As in Route 231, LLC v Comm'r, T.C. Memo. 2014-30, the 4th Circuit found Virginia Historic Tax Credit Fund 2001 LP v. Comm'r, 639 F.3d 129 (4th Cir. 2011), to be on point and noted that IRC § 707 “prevents use of the partnership provisions to render nontaxable what would in substance have been a taxable exchange if it had not been ‘run through’ the partnership.”
The 4th Circuit rejected the partnership’s attempt to distinguish Virginia Historic on the ground that Virginia Historic involved sham partnerships that ceased to exist as soon as the credits were transferred, while Route 231 was a valid partnership with economic substance and the 1% partner remained a bona fide partner in that partnership. The 4th Circuit found that argument “misse[d] the mark” because IRC § 707 “applies by its plain terms to designated transactions between otherwise valid ongoing partnerships and their legitimate partners.” In other words, the disguised sales rules look to the bona fides of a particular transaction rather than the status of the participants to that transaction.
The 4th Circuit also affirmed the Tax Court’s holding that the disguised sale occurred in 2005 and, thus, the partnership had to report the $3.8 million as income on its 2005 federal tax return. The partnership sought to treat the $3.8 million as reportable income in 2006 because the IRS had not sought to have the income included on the partnership’s 2006 tax return and any changes to that return were barred by the statute of limitations. The 4th Circuit found none of the partnership’s arguments on the applicable tax year to be meritorious. The court seemed to find particularly annoying that the partnership had made an affirmative representation on its 2005 federal tax return that it received the $3.8 million in 2005. In holding that the partnership was bound by its representation on its 2005 return, the court explained:
"'[T]he duty of consistency not only reflects basic fairness, but also shows a proper regard for the administration of justice and the dignity of the law. The law should not be such a[n] idiot that it cannot prevent a taxpayer from changing the historical facts from year to year in order to escape a fair share of the burdens of maintaining our government. Our tax system depends upon self assessment and honesty, rather than upon hiding of the pea or forgetful [equivocation].'" (citation omitted)
Nancy A. McLaughlin, Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Under legislation that has passed both the New Jersey House and Senate, nonprofit hospitals with certain for-profit operations would keep their property tax exemptions but would be required to pay their host municipality. The legislation requires a payment of $2.50 per day per bed or $250/day for satellite facilities. The legislation awaits Governor Christie’s signature, but it is not clear if he will sign. See the bill text here and here, and additional information from the New Jersey center on nonprofits here. This development follows a recent decision by the New Jersey tax court revoking property tax exemption for a non-profit hospital due to the many for-profit uses of the hospital’s property.
RC (hat tip, Evelyn Brody).
Sunday, January 10, 2016
The Legal Education Committee of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel requests proposals for a $20,000 grant to host an academic symposium on trust and estate law during the 2017-18 academic year.
The ACTEC Foundation Symposium is intended to be the premier academic symposium on trust and estate law in the United States. The goals of the symposium are to stimulate development of scholarly work in trust and estate law, bridge the gap between the academic community and practitioners, provide opportunities for junior academics to present papers and interact with more senior academics, provide an opportunity for trust and estate professors to interact with each other, involve academics from other disciplines in discussions of trust and estate topics, and strengthen ACTEC’s image as the leading organization for trust and estate lawyers, both practitioners and academics.
The grant associated with this RFP is contingent on approval by the ACTEC Foundation.
RFPs are due by Monday, May 2, 2016, and will be considered by the Symposium Subcommittee of the Legal Education Committee at ACTEC’s Summer Meeting in Boston in June 2016. Please submit RFPs (RFP content and guidelines are set forth below) to Nancy A. McLaughlin, Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, and Co-Chair, ACTEC Legal Education Committee, firstname.lastname@example.org. Electronic submissions are welcomed (subject line of email should read “ACTEC Symposium RFP”)
I. RFP Content
The RFP should provide the following information.
A. Theme. The theme of the symposium should be related to trust and estate law, defined to include any topic related to the gratuitous transfer of property (e.g., probate law, trust law, elder law, transfer tax law). A broad theme permits a wide range of papers and is more likely to be successful. Past themes have included Trust Law in the 21st Century (Cardozo 2005); Inheritance Law in the 21st Century (UCLA 2008); Philanthropy Law in the 21st Century (Chicago-Kent 2009); The Uniform Probate Code: Remaking of American Succession Law (Michigan 2011); and The Role of Federal Law in Private Wealth Transfer (Vanderbilt 2014). The theme of the most recent symposium, which took place at Boston College Law School in October 2015, was The Centennial of the Estate Tax: Perspectives and Recommendations (articles will be published in the Boston College Law Review May 2016 symposium edition).
In connection with identifying a theme for the symposium, the RFP should indicate the types of topics that might be presented. Actual topics may depend, in part, on paper proposals but it will be helpful for the RFP to illustrate the scope of the theme.
B. Host Law School and Faculty Member(s). The proposal should identify the law school that will host the symposium and one or two faculty members at the host school who agree to manage the logistics of the symposium. The faculty member(s) proposing the symposium will need to make all the arrangements with the law school, the law review or journal, and the speakers.
C. Publication. Symposium papers must be published so the exchange of ideas can be shared beyond those who are able to attend the symposium. An important part of the RFP is a commitment, to the extent possible, from a law review at the host school to publish the papers as a symposium issue. The law review can be either the primary journal or a secondary journal at the host law school. The Legal Education Committee is aware of the difficulty of obtaining a commitment from a journal board to publish papers in an issue that will be managed by another board and is open to whatever strategies may work.
II. Guidelines for the Symposium
The Legal Education Committee has developed guidelines for the symposia and the host faculty should plan to follow these guidelines, with discretion with respect to details. Guidelines regarding various aspects of the symposia will be provided to the grant recipient, but the key items the proposed host should be aware of before submitting an RFP are set forth below.
A. Call for Papers. After the host law school is selected, the faculty member managing the symposium will issue a call for papers. The faculty member may want to secure commitments for papers from a few speakers first, and the call for papers need not be for all papers, but the call for papers should be used to determine a substantial number of the presenters. The Legal Education Committee can assist in circulating the call for papers, to help make the process as wide a call as possible.
The faculty member managing the symposium, in consultation with the Symposium Subcommittee (consisting of several members of the Legal Education Committee), will choose the presenters based, in general, on the following criteria:
Connection to the theme
Interesting, innovative research
Importance of research
Junior scholars/senior scholars/a mix
In addition to the papers, a luncheon speaker and commentators should be selected. These presenters may, but need not, come from the group that submitted paper proposals. Depending on the theme and the topics of the papers, it may be appropriate to ask one or two practitioners to be commentators or the luncheon speaker.
B. Budget. The budget for past symposia has provided the speakers and commentators with travel (ground transportation to and from airports, air travel or mileage for driving, and hotel for one or two nights, as needed by the speaker). Speakers have been invited to a dinner Thursday evening and on Friday breakfast and lunch are provided to all attendees. Speakers have not been reimbursed for other expenses, such as meals en route to the symposium. There are some additional costs for publicity and materials (ACTEC helps with production and distribution of publicity).
The Foundation will transfer the grant to the host school, and the host school will be responsible for managing the grant, paying expenses for the symposium, and filing a report with the Foundation after the symposium. In the past, the grant has been sufficient to cover all expenses.
Saturday, January 9, 2016
The first issue of 2016 of the National Council of Nonprofits’ Nonprofit Advocacy Matters previews legal and policy issues expected to take center stage in 2016. Key topics include the expanding efforts to impose PILOTs by local governments, challenges to state charity property tax exemptions, pressures created by state fiscal weakness, regulations threatening the independence of the nonprofit sector in various ways, and reform of government-nonprofit contracting and grant-making.
Friday, January 8, 2016
Don’t Let the Headlines Mislead You on the Reported Endorsement of Hillary Clinton by “Planned Parenthood”
Across the country this morning, millions awoke to news source headlines proclaiming that presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is receiving the endorsement of “Planned Parenthood.” The prime exhibit is the headline for the story appearing in today’s New York Times. The print edition reads, “Planned Parenthood Gives First Primary Endorsement in Its 100 Years to Clinton,” and the online version of the Times story reads, “Planned Parenthood, in Its First Primary Endorsement, Backs Hillary Clinton.“ The story in the latter version opens with these words: “Planned Parenthood, which has become an ideological minefield in the 2016 presidential election, said Thursday that it would endorse Hillary Clinton — its first endorsement in a presidential primary in the nonprofit’s 100-year existence.” Stories in some other major news sources lead with similar language. See, for example, the stories published by ABC News and CNN.
Although its headline is also misleading, the story appearing in the Washington Post actually begins with what appears to be the accurate factual account: “The political arm of Planned Parenthood will endorse Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire on Sunday, a Clinton campaign official confirmed.” And therein lies the critical distinction. As the New York Times piece eventually reports, the endorsement is being “technically made through the nonprofit’s advocacy arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.”
“Technically made,” indeed. As exempt organization lawyers are well aware, the identity of the entity that supports or opposes a United States presidential candidate matters greatly. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. – the health care service-provider at the center of recent controversies over whether it should receive federal funds in the wake of allegations that it has profited from transactions in fetal tissue – is a tax-exempt charitable organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. As such, to comply with the requirements for federal income tax exemption, Planned Parenthood must “not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” Planned Parenthood’s political affiliate is not bound by the section 501(c)(3) limitations.
The reporting of the Clinton endorsement highlights the degree to which, in the minds of many, including journalists, these rules are just “technical” distinctions. But the distinctions are of enormous importance. Consider the pastor of a local church who wants to express a political voice on politics. The pastor is free to do so in appropriate contexts, without having his viewpoint attributed to the legal entity which is the church. Cecile Richards may do the same, individually or on behalf of a political action organization, without having her statements attributed to the charity.
Of course, the reporting of the Clinton endorsement raises the issue that the Planned Parenthood brand is now being used to influence a presidential election, reportedly the first time it has ever been so employed during the primary election stage. The manner in which major media outlets are reporting the endorsement tends to magnify the impact of this brand on the endorsement itself. But a similar point may be made whenever a prominent personality associated with a tax-exempt charity endorses or opposes a candidate. Such a person is free under current law to identify herself by reference to her position with the charity, as long as she is not speaking on behalf of the charity. In each case, a charity’s reputational capital has to some extent been appropriated, either by referring to the charity’s name, or by using a similar-sounding name.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
IRS Withdraws Controversial Proposed Regulations on Reporting Donations and Donor Identity Information
Accounting Today reports that the Internal Revenue Service has withdrawn its proposed regulations permitting charitable donees to substantiate contributions of $250 or more by reporting them directly to the agency under section 170(f)(8)(D) of the Internal Revenue Code. The proposed regulations proved controversial because the optional method for reporting donations called for disclosing donors’ taxpayer identification numbers (which typically are their social security numbers). The notice of withdrawal is available here.
Additional Coverage: The Chronicle of Philanthropy
National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson has submitted her 2015 Annual Report to Congress, required by section 7803(c)(2)(B)(ii) of the Internal Revenue Code. One section of the report (see pages 36-44) scathingly criticizes the review of Forms 1023-EZ (or lack thereof) by the Internal Revenue Service. The following paragraph from the Executive Summary of the report details key findings:
TE/GE’s Exempt Organization (EO) function approves 95 percent of applications submitted on Form 1023-EZ. EO’s own pre-determination review program shows that EO approves applications much less frequently — 77 percent of the time — when it reviews documents or basic information from the applicants, rather than relying only on the attestations contained in the form. EO rejects some applications simply because the applicant was not eligible to use Form 1023-EZ, but the pre-determination review also showed that almost 20 percent of Form 1023-EZ applicants, despite their attestations to the contrary, did not qualify for exempt status as a matter of law. These results are consistent with TAS’s analysis of a representative sample of Form 1023-EZ applicants that obtained exempt status, which showed that 37 percent of the organizations in the sample did not satisfy the legal requirements for exempt status. Often, a deficiency in the applicant’s organizing documents that prevented qualification as an Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) organization could have easily been corrected had the applicant been advised of it.
The report recommends revising Form 1023-EZ generally to require applicants to submit to the IRS their organizing documents, a description of their actual or contemplated activities, and relevant financial information. The report further urges the IRS to determine exempt status only after reviewing the application and the recommended supporting materials.
Additional Coverage: Tax Notes Today (Electronic Cite: 2016 TNT 4-6)
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
As many of you may recall, in March 2010 the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Illinois Department of Revenue denying a charitable property tax exemption to what was then Provena Covenant Hospital in Urbana, IL (now Presence hospital). For prior blog posts about that decision, see here and here. After the court decision, the Illinois Legislature in 2012 enacted a new statute to define eligibility for charitable property tax exemption (for a blog post about that statute, see here). In essence, this new statute permitted hospitals to get a tax exemption if the amount they spent on specified community benefits (such as charity care for the uninsured, although the list of qualifying expenditures was very broad) at least equaled the value of the tax exemption.
The city of Urbana, where another large nonprofit hospital (Carle Hospital) is located, however, was not happy with the statutory fix, which would have resulted in their losing over $1 million a year in tax revenue from Carle's exempt status. Urbana and other local taxing districts affected by the new law challenged it in court, and today (Wednesday, January 6) the Illinois 4th District Court of Appeals held the new statute unconstitutional on its face. You can find the opinion here.
The Illinois Supreme Court previously had smacked down the Legislature for expanding the definition of charity for property tax exemption purposes in Eden Retirement Center v. Department of Revenue. The court's view is that the outer limits of charitable exemption are set by the Illinois Constitution; accordingly, the Legislature can narrow the definition of charity for tax purposes, but it cannot enlarge that definition beyond what the courts have established as the constitutional requirements for charitable exemption. Or put another way, what is "charitable" for Illinois property tax purposes is ultimately a matter for the Illinois Supreme Court to decide, not the legislature.
The 4th District found that the new hospital exemption statute went beyond the constitutional limits on exemption. Specifically, the Illinois Supreme Court previously had held that the constitution requires that exempt property be used "primarily" for charitable purposes. But the hospital exemption statute did not require exempt property to meet the "primary use" requirement. Indeed, the statute permitted a hospital to keep its exemption by simply paying another recognized charity an amount equal to the value of the hospital's exemption. As the court noted, in essence this permitted a hospital to "buy" exempt status without regard to the charitable use of the hospital's own property. And since charitable use is a constitutional requirement, this approach made the statute unconstitutional on its face.
At the time the statute was passed, I had serious questions about its constitutionality. Although the court's analysis took a different tack than my own, it seems those concerns were justified. This case, however, is clearly headed to the Illinois Supreme Court. It will be very interesting to see whether the court delivers yet another smackdown to the Illinois Legislature, which is pretty much batting .000 on recent major legislation (its pension "reform" law having been declared unconstitutional in a strongly-worded opinion by the Illinois Supreme Court last year).
In the meantime, the appellate opinion isn't going to have much effect, I suspect. It may result in a "hold" on processing a few hospital exemption applications or renewals pending the inevitable appeal (I can't imagine that this case won't be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court), but it is likely that everyone - both taxing districts and hospitals - will simply operate under the current status quo until the matter is finally resolved. If the Illinois Supreme Court upholds the appellate opinion, however, then things are going to get very, very interesting for nonprofit hospitals in Illinois, many of whom may face loss of exemption as a result.
In Memorandum SBSE-04-1215-0085, the Small Business/Self-Employed Division of the IRS has determined that the church audit procedures set forth in section 7611 of the Internal Revenue Code apply to church employment tax inquiries. Under Code section 7611, the IRS may begin a church tax inquiry only by satisfying statutory “reasonable belief requirements” and “notice requirements.”
The former is satisfied “if an appropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes (on the basis of facts and circumstances recorded in writing) that the church … may not be exempt, by reason of its status as a church, from tax under section 501(a), or … may be carrying on an unrelated trade or business (within the meaning of section 513) or otherwise engaged in activities subject to taxation ….”
The latter is satisfied “if, before beginning such inquiry, the Secretary [of the Treasury] provides written notice to the church of the beginning of such inquiry.” The notice must explain “the concerns which gave rise to such inquiry,” “the general subject matter of such inquiry,” and “the applicable … administrative and constitutional provisions with respect to such inquiry (including the right to a conference with the Secretary before any examination of church records), and … provisions of this title which authorize such inquiry or which may be otherwise involved in such inquiry.”
Code section 7611 also restricts the scope of church examinations and limits the period for conducting them.
Prior to the guidance in the recent memorandum, IRS examiners were instructed that Code section 7611 audit procedures do not apply to employment tax inquiries. But now examiners are instructed as follows:
Examiners should not initiate any examinations on a church. If for some reason an employment tax examiner encounters a church employment tax issue, the examiner should immediately contact the Program Manager, Exam, Programs and Review (EPR) in TE/GE Exempt Organizations Examinations.
This new guidance is effective upon issuance (12/17/2015).
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
The Chicago Tribune reports that Caryn Benson, a former data records supervisor for Chicago’s Field Museum, has admitted in federal court to embezzling in excess of $400,000 from the Museum. In the plea agreement that she has entered, Benson admits to having embezzled approximately $33,014 of the Museum’s funds in 2014, as well as $376,986 in funds between June 2003 and January 1, 2014. The government contends that the total amount embezzled exceeds $900,000. For purposes of sentencing, the plea agreement provides that “[e]ach party is free to present evidence and argument to the Court on this issue [i.e., the actual amount embezzled]” and that the defendant will pay restitution in an amount ultimately determined by the court.
According to the Tribune piece, Chief Marketing Officer for the Museum, Ray DeThorne, believes that $903,000 was embezzled, an amount “confirmed in the Field’s own audit and in one conducted by the museum’s insurance company before it made restitution to the museum, less a $10,000 deductible.” DeThorne is also quoted as saying that the Museum “has since put into place much stricter oversight over cash transactions.”
Gemperle v. Comm’r—Tax Court Denies Deduction for Façade Easement Donation for Failure to Include Appraisal In Tax Return Filing
In Gemperle v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2016-1, the Tax Court sustained the IRS’s disallowance of deductions claimed with regard to the donation of a façade easement because the taxpayers, a married couple who represented themselves in Tax Court, failed to include a qualified appraisal of the easement with the return they filed for the year of the contribution. The court also held that the taxpayers were liable for 20% penalties for disregard of rules and regulations or, alternatively, 40% penalties for making gross valuation misstatements on their jointly filed income tax returns.
In 2007, the Gemperles granted a façade easement on their historic residence in the Lakewood/Balmoral neighborhood of Chicago to the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois (Landmarks). The house, which was built in 1898, is located in a registered historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The taxpayers obtained an appraisal of the easement from an appraiser included on a list of appraisers Landmarks furnished. The appraiser estimated that the easement had a value of $108,000 and the taxpayers claimed deductions in that amount on their 2007 and 2008 income tax returns. The taxpayers also made a cash contribution to Landmarks of $10,800 (10% of the estimated value of the easement).
The IRS challenged the deductions claimed with regard to the easement donation, arguing, among other things, that:
(i) the taxpayers' appraisal was not a “qualified appraisal” as required by IRC § 170(f)(11)(A) and (C);
(ii) the façade easement was not “granted in perpetuity” and its conservation purpose was not “protected in perpetuity” as required by IRC §§ 170(h)(2)(C) and 170(h)(5)(A);
(iii) the taxpayers failed to include a completed “appraisal summary” (IRS Form 8283) with their 2007 return as required by Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-13(c)(2)(i)(B) and (4);
(iv) the taxpayers failed to include a copy of a qualified appraisal or photographs of the house with their 2007 return as required by IRC § 170(h)(4)(B)(iii); and
(v) the taxpayers failed to prove that the façade easement reduced the value of their residence by $108,000.
Because the Tax Court found that the taxpayers failed to include a copy of a qualified appraisal with their 2007 return, and that omission was fatal to the claimed deductions, it did not address the IRS’s alternative grounds for denying the deductions.
In 2006, in response to reports of abuse, Congress added new requirements to § 170(h) with regard to donations of façade easements on buildings located in registered historic districts, including the requirements that the full qualified appraisal and photographs of the entire exterior of the building must be filed with the return filed for the year of the contribution.
The Tax Court found the Gemperles liable for 20% penalties for “disregard of rules or regulations” under IRC § 6662(a) and (b)(1), explaining that the requirement that the full qualified appraisal be included with the tax return filed for the year of the contribution is stated not only in the Internal Revenue Code but also in the instructions for the IRS Form 8283. The court explained that the Form 8283 “itself warned [the taxpayers] that an appraisal is generally required for donated property over $5,000 and directed them to the Form 8283 instructions,” and “[the taxpayers] were at least careless, if not reckless, in ignoring the warning that an appraisal was required.” The taxpayers also failed to qualify for the reasonable clause exception (IRC § 6664(c)(1)) or the exception for adequate disclosure of a position contrary to a rule or regulation (Treas. Reg. § 1.6662-3(a)).
The Tax Court further found that the Gemperles were, in the alternative, liable for 40% penalties under IRC § 6662(h) for making gross valuation misstatements on their 2007 and 2008 returns with regard to the easement. The gross valuation misstatement penalty is imposed if the value asserted on a return is more than 200% of the value determined by the court to be the correct value. The IRS offered expert testimony that the easement had a value of between $0 and $35,000, while the Gemperles failed to provide expert testimony that the value of the easement was greater than $35,000 (the Gemperles failed to make their “alleged qualified appraiser” available for cross-examination and the Tax Court thus found her appraisals to be inadmissible hearsay evidence). Accordingly, the Tax Court accepted $35,000 as the "correct" value of the easement for purposes of determining liability for the gross valuation misstatement penalty, and since the $108,000 value the Gemperles claimed for the easement on their 2007 and 2008 returns was more than two times (200% of) $35,000, the Gemperles were liable for the penalty with regard to both returns.
The gross valuation misstatement penalty is a strict liability penalty (no reasonable cause exception applies) with regard to façade easement deductions claimed on returns filed after July 25, 2006.
Nancy A. McLaughlin, Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
Monday, January 4, 2016
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a bill passed by the Budget Committee of the New Jersey Senate and referred to the State and Local Government Committee of the New Jersey General Assembly would maintain property tax exemption for New Jersey nonprofit hospitals – for a price. Says the story:
The bill comes in response to a June tax court ruling that found that Morristown Medical Center in Morris County failed to qualify for the exemption from tax years 2006 to 2008.
The court found that the nonprofit hospital "operated and used its property for a profit-making purpose," violating a legal standard used to determine whether it owed property taxes.
For example, in addition to employing its own physicians, Morristown Medical Center contracted with for-profit doctors that used the hospital's facilities and who directly charged patients. The court said it was impossible to delineate between the hospital's nonprofit and for-profit operations.
The property tax exemption for nonprofit hospitals granted by the bill reportedly would extend to hospitals with on-site for-profit medical providers. But there is a catch. According to the Inquirer, the bill would also generally require hospitals to pay an annual community service fee to local governments:
[Nonprofit hospitals would] also pay an annual community fee, most of which would go to municipalities and 5 percent to counties. Acute care hospitals would pay $2.50 per day for each licensed bed, while satellite emergency care facilities would pay $250 per day.
The fees could generate up to $21 million for municipalities and counties by one estimate. The bill is reported to limit the use of this revenue for “public safety or to reduce municipal and county property taxes.”