It’s actually a narrower issue than this Townhall item (linked to by the TaxProf Blog) makes it sound like, but apparently there’s legislation pending in Congress that would expressly exempt from the federal gift tax contributions to certain tax-exempt organizations. This item from the Proskauer Rose law firm’s blog gives a more complete explanation: contributions to charitable organizations are expressly exempted from the gift tax, as are contributions to political organizations, but there is no express gift tax exemption for contributions to so-called 501(c)(4) organizations (“social welfare organizations”).
The dust-up started back in 2011 when the IRS made noises about enforcing the gift tax on contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations. I had forgotten about it until I saw the link to the Townhall item. The IRS didn’t follow through on that threat, and has never enforced the gift tax on such contributions.
The issue has re-surfaced now because someone in Congress thought that it would be a good idea to pass explicit legislation clarifying that contributions to social welfare organizations are not subject to the gift tax. It seems to me that specifying whether or not the gift tax applies to those contributions is a good idea. But as the Townhall item notes, there are apparently some who disagree, and the Senate hasn’t acted on the measure despite the fact that it passed the House without opposition.
Don’t confuse the question of gift tax applicability with the income tax deductibility of contributions to various types of organizations. As I have become accustomed to explaining, the taxability of a transfer under the gift tax is different from the applicability of the income tax. The federal gift tax is a tax on a transfer of an asset. It’s a different tax, based on a fundamentally different concept, from the income tax.
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