The arrests of 44 individuals–including, 3 mayors, 5 respected community rabbis, a score of government officials, and others–on Thursday of last week (July 23) should highlight the dangers of organizations donating to international causes; and I guarantee you, the I.R.S. is having similar thoughts.
I believe that two reactions can be expected.
1. Greater Scrutiny of Charities
The fear that a charitable donation might not be used for a charitable purpose is not new. The U.S. Department of Treasury has long known the important role that charities play in financing terror and released in 2006 its third version of “Financing Guidelines: Voluntary Best Practices for U.S. Based Charities.”
(For a more detailed analysis, I published an article entitled, “International Charity in the Face of Global Terrorism: The U.S. Department of Treasurys Response.”)
Until now the guidelines produced by the IRS and other groups have been voluntary in nature and not enforced by the U.S. Government. Incidents like the one from last week and the Spinka Hasidim in 2007 are convincing the IRS that terrorists aren’t the only ones abusing the system.
With President Obama’s civic-minded government, we can expect these recommendations to become laws (click here to read more about Obama’s nonprofit agenda). When the Treasury reviews the practices of international organizations they will find that many of them are not following the guidelines that have been suggested. Organizations that are found to be negligent can find themselves facing criminal charges, fines, and revocation of tax-exempt status.
The U.S. government has already invested the time. The literature exists. In just a few short weeks, we can theoretically find these voluntary principles mandatory, so read the letter of the law and obey even the spirit of the law. Remember, the Patriot Act of 2002 allows the IRS to freeze accounts first, and ask questions later.
2. Restriction of 501(c)3 Tax-Exempt Status
The general locker-room talk, as one accountant put it, is that the easiest way to prevent future international fraud is to restrict the organizations that can gain tax-exempt status. Many Israeli organizations currently have or are thinking of opening “Friends of” organizations in the States to help fundraise from American citizens. Donations to these American-based organizations are exempt from United States federal taxes and are channeled to the final destination in Israel.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has only enough manpower to audit between 2 – 3% of registered charities in America. Scrutiny of organizations that already have 501(c)3, then, seems almost like an impossibility. However, as every new organization that wants tax exempt status needs approval from the IRS, it would be a relatively simple procedure to restrict approval to new charities; more specifically, to new charities that donate to international causes.
This could be done simply by requiring additional paperwork or by imposing a minimum existence period, as is the case in Israel.
(More about the difference between USA and Israeli charities can be found in my article entitled “Defining an Israeli Nonprofit Organization.”)
Those that are worried about obtaining this status should forget about waiting for the “right” time and apply now. For those organizations that do not set up a “Friends of” charities, organizations such as the PEF, Central Fund, FJC, One Israel Fund and others can provide receipts to donors and forward the money to the intended Israeli causes.
Tizku LeMitzvot [May you continue to merit doing good deeds],