TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ann Coulter: Politicians' Charitable Giving

I previously blogged the amount of charitable gifts (as a percentage of AGI) by various politicians:

Ann Coulter mines these data in Liberals Give 'Til It Hurts (You):

Liberals never tire of discussing their own generosity, particularly when demanding that the government take your money by force to fund shiftless government employees overseeing counterproductive government programs. ... This week, we'll take a peek at the charitable giving of these champions of the poor. ...

[Discussion of charitable giving by Joe Biden, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, John McCain, and Barack Obama.]

Elected Democrats crow about how much they love the poor by demanding overburdened taxpayers fund government redistribution schemes, but can never seem to open their own wallets. The only evidence we have that Democrats love the poor is that they consistently back policies that will create more of them.

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A challenge for 2011: can you sink any lower than citing Ann Coulter?

Have a better New Year!

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Dec 30, 2010 10:45:53 AM

I wonder what those numbers would look like if we controlled for donations to churches.

Posted by: lkj | Dec 30, 2010 11:15:33 AM

I've said it before & I'll say it again: Take out church tithes/donations & recalc the numbers - I bet they'll be a whole lot closer. Giving to one's own church is self-serving and although sometimes that money goes to programs to help others, I'm under the impression that it mostly supports the church itself.

Posted by: Shamala | Dec 30, 2010 11:27:29 AM

Charity only helps one needy person. When the government takes the money it helps a politician, a couple of bureaucrats and the needy may even get a little also.

Posted by: Democrat | Dec 30, 2010 2:57:52 PM

Responding to A.C. is somewhat beneath me lest I be though the fool for responding. But, as this is a tax haven in the finest sense of the term, I would point out that every $1 of tax used to fund "shiftless government employees overseeing counterproductive government programs" such as the those at the IRS, the government gets a return of approximately $25-30.

Of course, I expect the rejoinder to be "those $25-30 are spent on shiftless government employees overseeing counterproductive government programs." Well then I respectfully ask that A.C. refrain from using anything funded, operated, or overseen by the Federal, state, and local governments such as highways, airplanes, radio, tv, electricity, water, sewers, ad nauseum. In fact, I hope she was on the east coast and no locality plowed her out. And no police for her when her car is broken into and no fire department when her house is on fire.

but I do go on . . .

Posted by: tax guy | Dec 30, 2010 4:59:26 PM

Sadly, as others have said... without knowing who are you donating the money to... this isn't enough information.

Bush donating 15% to the church... or whomever.
Also, this is often done as a huge write off...

Posted by: Bumper Plates | Dec 30, 2010 11:10:43 PM

When the truth hurts, it's time to attack the truth-bearer.

For those who insist we re-calculate these percentages so that they give an answer more suitable to their beliefs, I guess they're admitting their favorite politicians don't give to their churches at all. Odd how that split seems to run down a partisan line.

Church donations are self-serving? Oh, that's right, in my church, the big donors get the golden pews. The rest of us are relegated to the back. And none of our donations are spent on helping the disadvantaged, the disaster-stricken, the bereaved. No sir, it all goes to make sure we have a nice, shiny church to attend and smooth-talking preacher to listen to on Sundays and Wednesdays. We're just that kind of congregation.

Finally, I'll take tax guy's numbers at face value because I have no idea of they're true or not but the idea that a $25-30 return on each $1 invested sounds like it's too good to be true. Then again, that kind of return isn't impossible to achieve if you run the kind of deficits we have. There's a word for that kind of investment and Bernie Madoff is under indictment for such a scheme.

Posted by: Pete Terranova | Dec 31, 2010 3:42:57 AM

In my experiences in preparing tax returns and looking at politicians' giving, conservatives tend to donate to churches, foreign missions, and charities, while liberals tend to give contributions to save the earth and whales and to special interest "victim" groups advancing their own social and political agendas.

Also, I note that it didn't take long for a lefty to resort to their usual tactic of attacking your *source* rather than discuss the factual *information* that the source provided.

Posted by: Woody | Dec 31, 2010 9:00:03 AM


I wanted to be conservative just to be sure I was not attacked for overstating the amount of revenue collected by the IRS for each $1 it is given to collect deficiencies and delinquent accounts. But you called me out, so here are the facts:

The Internal Revenue Service collects 96% percent of all federal revenue. Written Statement of Nina E. Olsen National Taxpayer Advocate before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations United States Senate Hearing on Internal Revenue Service FY 2009 Budget Request, 2008 TNT 75-50 (Apr. 16, 2008) (citation omitted); Statement of The Honorable J. Russell George Treasury Inspector General For Tax Administration before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations U.S. Senate, 2008 TNT 75-51 (Apr. 16, 2008).

For every dollar spent on the IRS the IRS produced approximately $210 in federal revenue, a 21,000% return on investment. Written Statement of Nina E. Olsen National Taxpayer Advocate before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations United States Senate Hearing on Internal Revenue Service FY 2009 Budget Request, 2008 TNT 75-50 (Apr. 16, 2008) (citation omitted).

So it seems that I underestimated by a factor of 10 how much ROI the IRS gets on every $1 sent to the IRS. A 21,000% return is not a Ponzi scheme; it is Revenue Agents, Revenue Officers, and numerous other IRS employees detecting taxpayers who underreported the amount of tax they owed (I hesitate to call them cheaters because some taxpayers do make mistakes or get bad advice) and underpaid their taxes when every other American paid their fair share (i.e., deadbeats and deadbeat cheaters, with the exception of some taxpayers who truly cannot pay what they owe and as such are eligible for OICs and the like, which again nets revenue that otherwise would go uncollected).

There is the truth. I am sorry if the truth hurts, Pete, but just because you believe something to be so does not make it so.

And I would argue that all donations are self-serving. If not, first of all, why take a deduction for the largesse? A deduction is in and of itself self-serving. Second, charitable giving is not given into some community pot to be dispensed to those in need; they are given specifically to a charity of choice and that choice is self-serving in and of itself (once again). Why not give to someone else's church, or random illness not affiliated with their family? It is because of the satisfaction one gets out of giving to a particular thing, not out of giving in and of itself.

Perhaps my belief is incorrect, but I believe that there is no such thing as disinterested (selfless, or non self-serving) giving. There is always self-satisfaction associated with the giving and thus it cannot be disinterested.

Take stock of your own charitable giving Pete. Do you donate to other religions' charitable funds? Do you donate to charities to fight illnesses when no one you know suffered from that disease? If so, you'd be the first I have come across, and I think you'd be hard to find a second. Or maybe I am a bad person because I am the only on who donates to my religion's (and not others) causes, or diseases that have plagued my family, or gave me a sense of self-satisfaction for having donated the money.

But that is just my opinion. The facts at the top are just that--the facts. And if you cannot understand the difference between a Ponzi scheme and how paying IRS employees to collect the proper amount of revenue is not a $1 for $1 position, I doubt you can understand the concept of noblesse oblige and the fact that charitable deductions are necessary precisely because the rich would not give but for the giving reducing their income at the same time. They feel no obligation to the betterment of society (unless it is to the betterment of themselves or their pocketbooks).

Posted by: tax guy | Dec 31, 2010 8:40:39 PM

Donating to a church isn't the same as donating to other types of charities. Churches primarily serve their congregations, and by donating, you get a direct benefit. I give 10% to my church every year to keep the lights on and food on our pastor's table. That's not the same as giving money to a food kitchen that helps the needy.

Posted by: lkj | Jan 1, 2011 5:55:54 AM

tax guy: "And I would argue that all donations are self-serving. If not, first of all, why take a deduction for the largesse?"

Maybe, because taking legal deductions to reduce one's tax burden is also "self-serving?"

tax guy, you need to learn a few things about tithing and the motivation for giving ten percent to the church. For those who do, it's not always easy, but it's the right thing, as commanded.

Posted by: Woody | Jan 1, 2011 8:41:11 AM