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Promoting Charity Is a Must for Our Future

In the 2005 edition of Giving USA, the annual report on philanthropy, the Giving USA Foundation reported that, remarkably, Americans had donated nearly $250 billion to charitable organizations in the previous year. The enormity of these gifts confirms that the American people share my belief that there are few, if any, groups more critical to the future of our society than the nonprofit community. The kindness of the American spirit drives our citizens to give—it is the responsibility of our elected officials to create an environment in which charitable giving is encouraged, not penalized.

To this end, I worked to pass the bipartisan Charity, Aid, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act in the 108th Congress. By expanding the base of private and governmental resources available, the CARE Act would assist charitable organizations in overcoming many of the major challenges they are currently facing. Unfortunately, partisan politics prevented this bill from exiting conference and becoming law, but I am committed to this legislation, a critical aspect of my anti-poverty agenda, and it has recently been reintroduced as part of S. 6, the MORE Act.

There are a number of provisions from the CARE Act, included in the MORE Act, that enable it to accomplish its mission: to promote charitable giving. This legislation offers the nearly 86 million Americans, or two out of every three American taxpayers, who do not itemize on their taxes the opportunity to deduct a portion of their charitable contributions. By giving these citizens the chance to receive the same tax breaks that corporations and millions of other Americans enjoy, the CARE Act will promote further giving while at the same time justly rewarding the generosity of those already committed to donating their resources.

Additionally, the CARE Act offers incentives for individuals to give tax-free contributions from their Individual Retirement Accounts for charitable purposes, helping a large number of nonprofit organizations, specifically educational institutions. Likely to provide billions of dollars to educational organizations, this stipulation will help make higher education more accessible and affordable. These provisions help to make the CARE Act a piece of legislation that, if enacted, will greatly benefit the nonprofit community.

We are blessed to be part of a great society; a society where helping those less privileged than ourselves is not forced but is inherently part of who we are. It is critical that the government makes charitable giving as easy and beneficial as possible for those who desire to donate. Unfortunately there is a current movement in Washington that will change the way charitable and nonprofit organizations operate and that could severely hinder the ability and willingness of average Americans to give.

The Senate Finance Committee, of which I am a member, recently issued a staff discussion document outlining a number of charitable-reform proposals. Some of these proposals include placing a $500 limit on in-kind donations, requiring organizations to appoint separate audit committees, forcing a change of accountant every five years, and limiting deductions on donated land to the basis, not market, value. At the heart of these proposals is a growing concern regarding charitable abuses, a concern that I certainly share. The misuse of a system created to foster increased donation to charity is enormously distressing. In the course of trying to prevent this abuse, however, it is imperative that we do not obstruct the ability of honest, well-intentioned individuals to contribute.

The truth is only a tiny number of charities are engaged in abusive conduct. It is not right to penalize the many upright organizations for the dishonesty of a few. Instead of creating a new law, the government should authorize sufficient resources to facilitate full implementation of existing law already designed to prevent abuses. In doing so, the frequency of charitable abuse can be minimized, and we will avoid creating disincentives to giving that could severely damage a significant source of contributions for charities throughout the country.

The sheer number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for less fortunate Americans is truly inspiring. Performing medical research, distributing food, providing shelter—these are just a few of the functions undertaken by nonprofits that are crucial to our society. What is crucial to these organizations is that the government not impede their capability to raise funds. As a member of the United States Senate, I will persist in working toward an environment where charitable giving benefits all involved and hope that each year, the number released in the Giving USA Foundation's annual report continues to grow.

Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)
© 2005, Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum has served in the United States Senate since January 1995. He is in his third term as Republican Conference Chairman, the party's third-ranking leadership position in the Senate. He is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee; the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration; the Senate Special Committee on Aging; and the Senate Finance Committee, of which he is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy.
Topics: Law and Regulations