By Lisa Hagen
BU News Service
WASHINGTON – The Charitable Giving Coalition — a group of nonprofit supporters from 48 of the 50 states — traveled to Capitol Hill Wednesday to advocate for the charitable tax deduction, a tax break that could be on the chopping block as negotiations proceed to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
Among the participants was Tim Garvin, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester-based United Way of Central Massachusetts, who represented his group at a half-dozen meetings in congressional offices throughout the day. His group is a branch of the parent United Way organization that focuses on fundraising efforts in the community.
Joined by officials from several New England based educational institutions – Boston College, Harvard University and the University of Vermont – as well as the Boston-based Huntington Theatre Company and the Ocean Conservancy, Garvin met with staffers from the offices of Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as well as Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
In an effort known as “Protect Giving,” an estimated 280 individuals from more than 50 nonprofit organizations descended on Capitol Hill to plead their case to members of Congress and their staff to preserve tax incentives for charitable giving.
“I think it’s phenomenal, the scope and breadth of geography and interest, and making the message that this is about preserving individual choice,” Garvin said. “But it’s also about the impact that comes from all those donations in so many sectors.”
In central Massachusetts alone, Garvin said that 11,602 individuals contributed to his group last year, for a total of about $3.5 million. He added that over 60,000 people were helped, and that, for each individual donor, about five lives were touched.
Garvin also had the opportunity to sit down with U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, who later said that elimination of the charitable deduction would be “tragic” and limit necessities such as food and shelter for the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
“If you were to eliminate this, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that it will result in less giving to groups like the Worcester County Food Bank,” McGovern said in a telephone interview. Of the day’s lobbying effort on behalf of the deduction, he added, “I believe it is worthwhile that they are here — because it’s important to show members that it encourages organizations that help improve our community.”
Contrasting the charitable deduction to tax code provisions that benefit corporations seeking to avoid taxes or transfer operations overseas, McGovern stressed that the tax break involved in this case was not a loophole.. He added that out of “all the places to look to find savings, this should be the last place to look.”
Garvin pointed to a poll last week by the United Way parent organization that found 79 percent of Americans want the charitable deduction to remain untouched. Mr. Garvin emphasized that the deduction is utilized across-the-board, regardless of whether an individual earns $50,000 or $250,000 annually.
By the end of Wednesday, Garvin said that representatives of the Charitable Giving Coalition had visited an estimated 240 legislative offices.
“I don’t know who I feel more sorry for — us going in saying the same thing five times, or the wonderful staff liaison who had to listen to the people radically impassioned about the services [they provide] and the people whose lives they touch in a positive way,” he said.