With 2017 marking the 100th anniversary of the charitable tax deduction, Independent Sector was inspired to dig into the history of this incentive for giving. One notable milestone occurred 37 years ago.
On January 30, 1980, Robert Packwood (R-OR) and Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) were joined by a who’s-who of charitable community leaders—including IS founding chairman, John W. Gardner—in a push to expand the charitable deduction to all taxpayers.
With some help from the Library of Congress, we got a hold of the public record from the 1980 hearing—a 544-page document. Gardner’s characteristically eloquent statement appears 75 pages into the record. His rousing case for the protection and expansion of the charitable deduction makes frequent mention of four core concepts: America, tradition, individuals, and community. Combined, these motifs appear 54 times. For comparison, Gardner only makes four explicit references to the deduction itself.
In lieu of the economic case for the deduction, Gardner renders it as a fact both owing to and in service of America’s fundamental values and identity. Here’s a taste of what we encounter in the statement:
The American habit of voluntary association emerged in the colonies more than a century before the Constitutional Convention. If neighbors or members of a community shared a problem or concern, they didn’t wait for higher authority to nominate someone to tackle it. They acted on their own initiative…
The tradition has flowered beyond the dreams of our forebears and is today one of the glories of American life…We love that torrential flow of human initiative and we intend to hold on to it. It is rooted in good soil—civic pride, compassion, a philanthropic tradition, a strong problem solving impulse, a sense of individual responsibility and—whatever cynics might say—an irrepressible commitment to the great shared task of improving life together.
Today, it’s easy to see the charitable deduction as a nonessential relic in American tax policy—after all, it’s been around for a century. But Gardner helps us understand what this time-honored policy says about our roots as a people committed to the basic, but formidable charge of improving life together.
Jackie Brennan is the associate for social media and web at Independent Sector.