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November 15, 2012

Ending Charitable Tax Deduction Will Hurt Animals

We have just ended a presidential election campaign that featured more than a little debate about class and taxes. President Obama, as we all know, argued that, with our nation’s debt growing by billions each week, the federal government should raise taxes on people who earn more than $250,000 a year. To a lesser degree, he also talked about limiting deductions for higher-income people, including deductions for charitable giving.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Making it tougher for private citizens to give money to charities is a wrong-headed idea. At a time when federal expenditures are almost certain to shrink, in absolute terms and also relative to GDP, it makes no sense to enact policies that will also shrink the size and reach of charitable organizations. As government services are reduced, it’s going to be private charities that will be asked to stretch their finite resources even further and fill those critical gaps.

America’s robust charitable sector — which takes in about $300 billion, divided between more than a million organizations, including churches, colleges and universities, hospitals, and organizations devoted to disease prevention, hunger, environment, animal protection, and so many other causes — provides some of the most vital, important, and life-affirming work in our society. Constraining charitable giving doesn’t make common sense at any point, and especially not now. Even if deductions were severely limited, it would not produce enough additional revenue for the federal government to make much of a dent in the deficit.

I can guarantee you that the elimination of a tax deduction will be a setback for the cause of animal protection and the care of animals. In this regard, the government helps very little to begin with. Take a look at the response to Hurricane Sandy. There’s almost no state or federal capacity to help pets and the people who care about them. That burden falls almost entirely on The HSUS and other local, state, and national animal protection organizations — for the search and rescue, the sheltering, the reunions, and the rebuilding.

There are some federal programs that do good things for animals, such as protecting threatened and endangered species and marine mammals and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. But the federal government is also a source of misery for animals — subsidizing factory farms, paying for and conducting ruthless and wasteful predator control programs, using chimpanzees and many other animals in needless or duplicative and invasive research programs, opening national wildlife refuges to sport hunting and commercial trapping, and so much more.

More than any other force, it is animal protection charities that drive the debate over the humane treatment of animals in society. It is The HSUS and other groups that are promoting corporate and public policies to help animals. It is the thousands of animal protection organizations — from The HSUS to the smallest local groups — that provide the bulk of the care for homeless animals and other animals in crisis.

If we don’t have the capacity — in the form of financial resources — to conduct the work of animal protection, it will put animals in jeopardy and diminish our society in so many ways. The same is true for groups in other parts of the charitable sector that also do so much heavy lifting in our society.

President Obama and the Congress should focus on other ways to generate revenue and to cut spending. On the spending side, we have a lot of ideas on how he can eliminate or shrink government programs that harm animals. That will be a better start for him in his second term, rather than seeking to eliminate a critical tax incentive that allows people to do good in society and help their fellow citizens and the animals in our world.

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