People in Glass Houses
13 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2006 Last revised: 12 Jul 2010
Federal, state, and local governments subject charities to many complicated, technical, and often obscure rules. Many of those rules carry stiff penalties, out of proportion to the rules' apparent importance. As a practical matter, charities often ignore rules such as those involving solicitation of contributions, sales tax, and the need for various operation and food permits. They do so with little risk: After all, who will pick on a Girl Scout bake sale simply because it lacks a solicitation permit and a state and local food inspection?
But, says Prof. Willis, controversial charities follow this trend of violations at their peril. In an age of gotcha journalism, groups such as the Boy Scouts must fear nongovernment scrutiny of their public behavior as much as - or more than - government scrutiny. Prof. Willis provides several small but nightmarish examples involving a Boy Scout car wash, a private school raffle, and a local environmental group doing battle with a cement plant. He then analyzes a large, controversial foundation based on publicly available documents. According to his analysis, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation Inc. lacks a valid charitable purpose and violates numerous civil rules regarding private inurement and self-dealing. He concludes the government should withdraw its exempt status and should subject both the organization and management to substantial taxes and civil penalties. He does not address the possibility of criminal liability.
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