Rationale and Changing the Charitable Deduction
There are two principal rationales for the charitable deduction. Depending upon choice of rationale, some tax reform changes are suggested and others are not. A base measurement rationale suggests eliminating the deduction for unrealized appreciation, keeping the benefit as a deduction and not a credit, not adopting caps or a nonitemizer deduction, and protecting the tax base by narrowing the class of organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions. A subsidy rationale, depending upon which strand is emphasized, might favor a more equitable tax benefit in the form of a credit or through caps or a nonitemizer deduction, and could lead to preferring some organizations over others. Both rationales are consistent with placing a floor under the deduction, and narrowing its scope. Present law presents a confusing mix of policies and priorities. Tax reform presents an opportunity to reconsider the role of the charitable deduction in the tax system and to act accordingly.