Elder Oaks testifies before Senate committee, defends charitable deductions

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 18 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Elder Dallin H. Oaks told the U.S. Senate Finance Committee Tuesday morning that proposed "impairments" of the charitable tax deduction in order to increase tax revenues available for government expenditure are not religious, political or even economic issues.

Rather, he said, they pose "a question about the nature and future of America."

Elder Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was invited to testify at the committee's hearing on charitable giving by ranking committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He was accompanied by The Most Reverend Timothy C. Senior, an auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Russell Moore, dean of Christian Theology and Ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who Elder Oaks said had indicated their full support of the language of his testimony.

The standing committee, generally considered one of the most powerful committees in Congress, meets regularly to consider budgetary, taxation and other general revenue measures. At Tuesday's meeting committee members were gathering information and input from a number of nationally prominent experts in order to respond to national budget proposals calling for a cap on charitable and other deductions, or the elimination of the charitable deduction altogether with the option of replacing it with a credit based on a complicated formula.

The charitable tax deduction, Elder Oaks said, "is vital to the private sector that is unique to America." It provides much of the funding for countless organizations, both religious and charitable, that "are responsible for tens of millions of jobs and innumerable services that benefit our citizens at every level."

"I speak of educational institutions, hospitals, social welfare agencies and innumerable other organizations ministering to the needs of children, youth, the aged, the poor and citizens generally," Elder Oaks said. "The financial well-being of this private sector is dependent upon private contributions that qualify for the charitable deduction. And the impact these private institutions have on those they serve is magnified by the millions of volunteers motivated by the ideals they pursue."

As an example, he referred to the collective benevolent efforts of a wide variety of non-profit organizations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The LDS Church alone "aided the cleanup efforts with almost 3,000 tons of emergency supplies, over $13 million in cash and use of heavy equipment, and its members gave more than 42,000 man-days of service."

Other non-profit organizations, he noted, gave more than $3.5 billion in cash and in-kind donations in support of relief efforts.

"The private sector of charitable activity is almost unique and surely uniquely valued in America," Elder Oaks said. "And we all understand that its activities are funded by private donations produced or importantly stimulated by a charitable deduction that reduces the donor's taxes.

"We are grateful for the charitable deductions, which encourage donations to churches and other charities," Elder Oaks continued. "The effect of this tax benefit is built into the financing of charitable enterprises that are vital to our nation, and it is a significant and wise support of the private sector."

As a result, Elder Oaks concluded, "the charitable deduction should remain unimpaired, not just for religions and their unique role but for the benefit of the entire private sector of our nation. The private non-profit and non-government sector has always been an important counter-weight to the powers and potentially repressive influence of governments at the local, state and national level. The private sector is essential to preserving pluralism and freedom in our nation. Don't reduce the charitable deduction!"

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