Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Election in the Spotlight, But Policy Discussions Continue

The traditional thinking is that a U.S. presidential election typically slows down work in Congress, especially with all Representatives and one-third of Senators up for re-election as well. This week in particular, all eyes in Washington were on the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

But that doesn’t mean a lot of work isn’t going on behind the scenes, and AFP has been keeping in touch with Congressional staff throughout the summer and into the fall. We’ve met with Members’ personal offices, as well as with staff from the House Ways and Means Committee. We discussed preserving the existing charitable deduction, and perhaps expanding it by allowing individuals and families who do not itemize their taxes to still take a deduction for charitable gifts (the non-itemizer deduction).

The response was generally positive. Most offices are very supportive of the charitable deduction and don’t want to do anything to harm charitable giving. And from our conversations, it looks as if most of the conversation about tax matters in 2017 will focus on corporate and international taxes.

But there are also a lot of ideas circulating around about changes to the tax code, including potential modifications to itemized deductions and the treatment of non-cash gifts. Congress is examining all sorts of proposals, and as we look forward to next year, we must be ready to assess these new ideas and determine their impact on giving and the charitable sector.

Other issues continue to percolate as well. The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee recently held a hearing looking at how colleges and universities use their endowment funds, and if institutions with large endowments should be required to use a certain portion of them on tuition reimbursements or other items. Legislation is expected later this year.

And with the government possibly headed towards a shutdown unless Congress and the President can agree on a spending bill soon, AFP is being extra careful in monitoring these negotiations in case last-minute provisions get added that might affect philanthropy.

Meanwhile, our legislative work continues unabated in Canada, Mexico and other countries. In Canada, for example, fresh off the success of the first Charities Day on the Hill event in April last year, we’ll be participating in another similar event on October 18, this one being led by our partners at Imagine Canada. I’ll let you know how that goes and what we hear from legislators in Ottawa.

We’ll keep members posted as new issues and proposals arise, and please contact Michael Nilsen, our vice president for public affairs, if policy on the chapter and state/provincial level becomes critical.

And finally, I encourage all U.S. members, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in this year’s election. It’s an important civic duty of every citizen, and a critical way we keep our public office holders accountable to us, the people.

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