Tax Exempt Foundations

January 5, 1949

Report Outline
Federal Tax Exemption and Tax Avoidance
Family Foundations and Tax-Exempt Trusts
Tax-Exempt Business Activities of Colleges

Federal Tax Exemption and Tax Avoidance

Congress and Question of Tax-Exempt Foundations

The Tax-Exempt position of foundations and trusts organized on a non-profit basis but actively engaged in profit-making financial and business operations will be carefully scrutinized by the 81st Congress. More than a year ago the House Ways and Means Committee inquired into the activities of various college alumni foundations which were operating competitive business enterprises free of income tax. Hearings conducted recently by a Senate subcommittee headed by Sen. Tobey (R., N. H.) disclosed that several trusts, organized directly or indirectly by the president of Textron Incorporated, had made phenomenal profits through intricate financial deals with that corporation and its subsidiaries and, while claiming exemption from all federal income taxes, had donated only relatively small amounts to the charitable and educational organizations which they had been set up to aid.

Activities of the Textron trusts and of the college alumni foundations have been so foreign to the common concept of charitable trusts and educational foundations as to raise the question of whether they are rightfully entitled to full tax exemption. In the light of strong doubts that the privilege of tax exemption, extended by the revenue laws to certain organizations, was intended to cover such operations, it may be taken for granted that Congress will examine the whole problem with a view to closing loopholes for tax avoidance. And its inquiry may be expected to include so-called “family foundations,” conducted along more conventional lines, as well as foundations and trusts active in business and finance.

High Taxes as Spur to Use of Tax Avoidance Devices

High taxes always stimulate a search for loopholes in the law that may be legally utilized to reduce the amounts due to the tax collector, and there are abundant signs that the present era of high federal income taxes is not exceptional in this respect. Individuals, no less than business taxpayers, have reacted normally to the heavy impact of war and postwar imposts. Gen. Eisenhower, for example, reportedly put himself in line for a considerable tax saving on receipts from his recently published book by making an outright sale of the copyright instead of entering into the usual royalties arrangement. By holding the completed manuscript for six months and then selling it for a lump sum, the General could treat the proceeds as a long-term capital gain, subject to a tax of only 25 per cent, rather than as income taxable at much higher graduated rates. Several prominent radio entertainers, who recently contracted to switch networks, also have sought to arrange the transactions in such a way as to make the large lump-sum payments involved taxable as capital gains at 25 per cent instead of as income which might be subject in these cases to the maximum effective rate of 77 per cent.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Philanthropy and Charities
Mar. 08, 2019  Trends in Philanthropy
May 11, 2012  Celebrity Advocacy
Aug. 03, 2007  Corporate Social Responsibility
Dec. 08, 2006  Philanthropy in America
Jan. 22, 1999  Role of Foundations
Feb. 27, 1998  The New Corporate Philanthropy
Nov. 12, 1993  Charitable Giving
Dec. 23, 1988  Philanthropy: the Season for Giving
Dec. 12, 1986  New Faces of Charity
Dec. 03, 1982  The Charity Squeeze
Jan. 11, 1974  American Philanthropy
Mar. 05, 1969  Voluntary Action: People and Programs
Mar. 20, 1963  Tax-Exempt Foundations: Privileges and Policies
Oct. 12, 1955  Joint Fund Raising
Sep. 11, 1953  Charity Appeals
Jan. 05, 1949  Tax Exempt Foundations
Commercial Law
Tax Exemption