The Centenary of the Charitable Giving Deduction in the U.S. & Tom Brady’s Shameful Behavior

Co-Authored by Ellen Offner, Principal, Offner Consulting, LLC, health care strategy and program development

One hundred and eighty million of his own fortune, and $350 million of his supermodel wife, Gisele Bündchen, isn’t enough to make Tom Brady charitable.

So, he has chosen to exploit the Best Buddies program. Best Buddies is a big sister/big brother program for kids facing challenges; it was established in 1989 by Anthony Shriver in honor of Rosemary Kennedy, an intellectually disabled member of the Kennedy clan. Today, it works to provide a community of support for those with intellectual and physical disabilities through its charitable work. But Brady is not officially stealing. It is evidently legal for charities to give to other charities, like the “Tom Brady Change the World Foundation”. Who knew? We are not rich enough to have even thought of such a sham! We thought that ”to whom much is given, much is required” and that it was incumbent to give of our own time and treasure. What Tom Brady has done may be legal, but it is still unconscionable.

First we had Trump, using other people’s money (OPM) to appear charitable and to buy a life- sized portrait of himself. Now, we have Tom Brady diverting his gifts to enrich his high school and his kids’ school. It’s an alarming trend, and a perversion of the Robin Hoodian mantra to: “take from the poor and give to the rich.” Brady and his wife Gisele have ample funds—half a billion dollars between them—to contribute to whichever charities they choose, without diverting sorely needed funds away from Best Buddies.

Whether it is Christian tithing (giving 10 percent of your income to charity), Jewish Tzedakah (a required contribution from your earnings to charity), or Muslim Zakat (the third pillar of Islam, which encourages compulsory gifts to charity), every major religion requires adherents to give some of their earnings to the service of others.

We understand that a tax code encouraging certain behaviors is wise, as well as rewards those who give away their income. “To encourage private philanthropy,” as Vada Waters Lindsey writes in the Marquette Law Scholarly Commons, “Congress included a charitable contribution deduction in the Code in the War Income Tax Revenue Act of 1917. The statutory language is here provided: “Contributions or gifts actually made within the year to corporations or associations organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, or educational purposes, or to societies for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals . . . Such contributions or gifts shall be allowable as deductions only if verified under rules and regulations prescribed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury.”

This provision, which has evolved over the past hundred years, was intended to incentivize wealthy people such as Tom Brady to be philanthropic. It is not intended to be manipulated to aggrandize wealthy individuals or serve their personal ends.

Few of us live up to the best tenets of our religions without some prodding. We suspect even the most generous philanthropists are motivated in part by tax advantages. The wealthier the donor, the bigger the tax benefits. Brady has not only tarnished his all-American image (itself, something of a mixed expression), but has also sullied his team’s reputation. Does he want to re-brand, and trade from Patriots to the Stealers?

The real sin of Brady’s actions is that he has forced us to question our charitable donations, and where they are actually going. The motives of all our role models are not necessarily those of good citizenship. Of course, his partner in doing this is Shriver, who stood by and at least tacitly approved Brady’s ignoble behavior. America’s volunteer ethic is essential to building and continuing to promote community within our vast nation. A democracy can only work if we reach out to, and care for each other.

Let this serve as a message to Mr. Trump, and all you Senators and Representatives: As you look to reform the tax code, take a look at the charitable giving deduction. Make sure it is designed to encourage philanthropic behavior, and not to afford the rich a varnish for their image, by manipulating gifts to serve their own selfish purpose.

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