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Convention on Promoting Meaningful Reform in Philanthropy

On September 18-19, 2014, leaders in philanthropy from diverse backgrounds—including legal scholars, economists, political scientists, historians and foundation and nonprofit leaders—convened at Boston College Law School for a historic meeting to assess whether the current rules governing philanthropy adequately support the public good.

Philanthropy is the backbone of American society. Unlike many other countries that finance education, health care, scientific research, arts, and social safety nets primarily through government spending financed by tax revenues, the United States supports these important activities largely through private donations subsidized by tax benefits. This public-private partnership has resulted in many positive features of our civic landscape, including broad participation in charitable giving and unparalleled diversity in the charitable sector. At the same time, this system of funding is vulnerable to causing grave problems if the rules granting the tax benefit do not adequately ensure charitable dollars being put to charitable use.

The last time Congress addressed this issue in a comprehensive way was 45 years ago when it enacted the Tax Reform Act of 1969. This legislation overhauled the rules governing philanthropy and played a significant role in shaping the current structure and activities of the charitable sector. However, a lot has changed in 45 years, and the problems of 1969 have been replaced with the problems of 2014, causing many to wonder whether the time has come for Congress to revisit the rules governing the charitable sector with the goal of creating a closer alignment with the public good.

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Payout, Perpetuities, and Private Foundations