Editorial: Charitable giving helps poor, arts, research

Published Aug 31, 2013 at 05:00AM

Americans gave more to charity in 2012 than they had in several years, according to the GivingUSA Foundation’s annual report, published in June in conjunction with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. That’s a 3.5 percent increase from 2011, but still about 8 percent behind the peak set in 2007.

Yet some Oregon lawmakers and some at the national level look at charitable giving and see not the lifeblood of private anti-poverty agencies, the arts and environmental groups, but a pot of money ripe for taxation.

Fortunately, an attempt to do just that — tax at least some charitable gifts — died this spring in the Oregon Legislature, though Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, both worry it will resurface. Without further reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System, the pair said in Bend this week, the Legislature will have to continue to hunt for new tax revenues, and deductions for charitable contributions fit the bill.

Lawmakers should do their homework before they go too far down that road. Charitable contributions pay for things that in many countries are paid for with taxes, if they exist at all.

Americans, Oregonians included, gave away more than $300 billion last year, according to the GivingUSA Foundation report.

Two years ago, about a third of donations went to churches, many of which operate programs for the poor. Another 13 percent went to education — some of which also went to the poor, as did gifts to such things as human services and health. Arts and culture received about 4 percent.

So what happens if the law changes? Likely nothing good. According to an article in The Washington Post, if deductions were limited to gifts above 2 percent of a donor’s income, charitable giving would fall by $3 billion annually.

Were new limits placed on Oregon donors, everything from NeighborImpact’s food bank to the Family Kitchen would feel the pinch. It’s the poor — and art lovers and medical researchers — who suffer.