We’re Not Just Fighting the Good Fight

Monday, September 22, 2014
by Michael Hamill Remaley, SVP, Public Policy & Communications
This piece was originally published as the feature article for the September 2014 issue of the New York PhilanthroPost Policy Edition.
Philanthropy New York is pragmatic in its public policy work. With limited staff and resources, we choose our issues carefully based on their centrality to our members’ needs. When organizations like the Council on Foundations and the National Council on Nonprofits beseeched us to devote considerable time and effort to fighting for the U.S. Senate passage of the America Gives More Act, we first asked their leaders, and ourselves, if this might be an exercise in futility.   
The Senate has adjourned until after the mid-term elections without passage of the America Gives More Act, but we already know that our advocacy was worth the effort. 
We knew getting the Act passed was a long-shot from the start. And, even if it did pass, the Obama Administration has indicated that it is unlikely to sign the bill because they don’t want to move tax reform legislation piecemeal. Nonetheless, we calculated that advocacy for the elements contained within the Act – especially the item that our members had previously endorsed, the simplification of the private foundation excise tax – could increase the likelihood that those provisions would either be passed in lame-duck session after the elections or receive more favorable attention when larger tax reform legislation is assembled next year. 
Regardless of the potential outcome in the brief period between the Senators’ return from summer recess and their shut-down for campaigning, we decided that it was a good opportunity to connect with New York’s senators and talk with them about their positions on the legislation. 
As a reminder, The Act has four key provisions that are important to the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors: 
  • The bill would make the IRA charitable rollover permanent law.
  • It would simplify the private foundation excise tax on net investment income to a single rate of 1 percent. 
  • It would make permanent current “tax extender” provisions that enhance the deduction contributing land conservation easements and food inventory. 
  • It extends of the deadline for claiming charitable contributions from December 31st to April 15th of the following year.
These are all important legislative proposals that will improve our nation’s tax law to better support the work of the nonprofits that are doing so much to enhance the lives of all New Yorkers.
This August, PNY’s Board of Directors and Public Policy Committee approved taking action to advocate for the entire Act. We wrote letters to our Senators and had direct communications with the legislative staff for Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. And the good news is that our Senators are both very supportive of these provisions.  Still, it became clear from our conversations that there would be no movement on the Act before the adjournment.  
We knew this was the likely outcome, but we have accomplished what we expected: We have positioned these tax reform elements that are critical to the nonprofit community squarely in the top priorities of Senate leadership for when substantial work on tax reform takes place in the near future.  Furthermore, it was a worthwhile opportunity to reinforce with our Senate delegation and their legislative staff that Philanthropy New York is a leadership organization on key issues affecting the region’s nonprofit community.  
It is hardly “mission accomplished” on the America Gives More Act, but it has been an important step in moving these four provisions higher in the set of tax reform priorities that will be at the center of legislative activity in the future. 
If you have questions about the America Gives More Act and Philanthropy New York’s official position on the legislation, please contact Michael Hamill Remaley.
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