Former commissioner of Major League Baseball Fay Vincent recently served up a curve ball in a Wall Street Journal op ed piece (Sept. 16, 2011, page A11) titled “Soak the Rich? No, Soak the Needy.”
Mr. Vincent complained because the Obama administration, as part of a comprehensive jobs and deficit reduction package, is proposing to reduce the benefit a donor can receive for making a charitable contribution.
If the proposal is adopted by Congress, donors will be able to reduce their taxes by 28 percent on a gift instead of the current allowance is 35 percent. Mr. Vincent concludes this would cost a donor an additional $70 on each $1,000 gift.
One might think that this columnist, the pastor of a local church completely dependent upon charitable gifts, would want to sign up for Mr. Vincent’s team. Don’t churches want to promote tax laws that have the greatest opportunity of feathering their own nest?
But Mr. Vincent’s self-serving article disappoints and he throws an intentional wild pitch at the government by accusing them of giving an “intentional whack to the wealthy” while “likely punish(ing) those who benefit from our gifts.”
Citing his own meritorious charitable giving to the Mayo Clinic, Vincent threatens that a projected additional $70 per $1000 gift might make him “diminish or terminate” his gift, thus “punishing” a student he supports, “... a remarkable woman on her way to a superb medical career.”
The major world religions decry making charitable gifts based on an anticipated return for the giver. The Jewish philosopher Miamonides stated that the second-highest level of giving is when neither giver nor receiver know each other and Jesus clearly warned with regard to giving, “Do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.”
Because no one is wholly altruistic, most of us will work every angle when it comes to taxes and charitable giving. I will even concede Mr. Vincent’s point that some wealthy people (sadly) will reduce their giving because they’ve lost a $70 benefit. But his complaint runs counter to the conservative argument that what this nation needs is less financial assistance and more self reliance. I guess it depends on who’s getting the financial assistance. Most Americans will never receive Mr. Vincent’s benefit at 35 percent or 28 percent, not having enough wealth to itemize deductions in the first place.
Prior to 1917, the federal government did not allow one single penny of deduction for making a charitable contribution. It is worth noting that probably over 90 percent of the hospitals and institutions of higher learning in this nation were founded by religious people who never asked for or wanted tax relief from their government.
Out of the religious impulse, people fed the poor, healed the sick and educated the nation. They did it because it was the right thing to do and not because a CPA said it would help their bottom line. That’s true conservatism. The former baseball commissioner has struck out on this one.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.