Thursday, March 19, 2020
Brian Galle (Georgetown) presented The Kindness of Strangers: Taxing (and Regulating) Mass Fundraising at BYU yesterday as part of its Tax Policy Colloquium Series hosted by Cliff Fleming and Gladriel Shobe:
This is another story about law and time. Once, the giving of gifts was an intimate act. A gift was a kiss or a handshake in another form: it built trust, cemented alliances, celebrated bonds of love and friendship. Today, money is Popped, it is Zelle’d; it is bundled by ActBlue or Gofundme. Transfers that are unearned by labor or mutual exchange now occur remotely between strangers, and at scales that were unimaginable a few decades ago. Law quite simply has not kept up. My focus here will be on the taxation of gifts, but my analysis will stretch from that humble subject to sweep in global inequality, campaign finance, and the legal architecture of crowdfunding.
Gifts, I will argue, lie at the heart of all these topics. Each involves what we might call an “unearned transfer”—things of value passing from one person to another, with little or nothing tangible being delivered in return. And in each, tax law is deeply confused about whether the recipient of the benefit should be obliged to share a portion of it with the government. All draw on the law of gifts as at least an analogy, and often as direct authority. Yet usually the law of gifts yields no answer, or one that contradicts the treatment of other similar cases.