Charitable Deduction Legislation Should Set Higher Standards

Patrick Dorinson
Host of The Cowboy Libertarian Radio Talk Show in Sacramento

As a lifelong lover of dogs, I initially had a very positive reaction upon learning about legislation intended to establish the Prevention of Animal Homelessness and Cruelty Fund. This fund would go toward supporting cash-strapped animal shelters throughout the state. After all, how could anyone be opposed to this noble goal of protecting our beloved pets?

Assembly Bill 485 (Das Williams – Santa Barbara) will simply add this program to an existing Franchise Tax Board list of charities toward which taxpayers could choose to make contributions and receive tax deductions by checking a box on their tax return.

In concept, this would appear to be an excellent idea that benefits both taxpayers and the non-profit animal shelters that rely on donations to do their important work.

But upon closer inspection, AB 485 raises red flags about a subject I have been concerned about for a long time – organizations that claim to benefit a cause, when in actuality they are all about benefiting and enriching themselves.

People donate money to help a cause they support. But the dirty little secret with some so-called charities is that most of their donation ends up going toward salaries, overhead and marketing campaigns – not the people or cause the funds are supposed to directly benefit.

I have seen organizations use these bait-and-switch tactics as they prey on the sympathy of the public as it relates to veterans and other worthwhile charities.

Such appears to be the case with AB 485. Its heart may be in the right place, but the legislature should scrutinize the measure to determine if the lion’s share of the donations will actually find their way to saving dogs and cats or padding the salaries of executives.

My suspicions about AB 485 were further raised when I saw the sponsor the bill – The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS should not be confused with the valuable animal local shelters than serve communities throughout California. Rather it is a massive, well-financed corporate NGO based in Washington, DC.

It’s CEO, Wayne Pacelle, makes in the neighborhood of $400,000 per year. His total income since he took the helm of HSUS in 1994 has totaled nearly $3-million.

According to the latest available tax returns, the HSUS only shared less than one-percent (0.0078%) of its total budget of $112,000,000 on grants to support pet sheltering in California.

One watchdog group warns that HSUS “shares shockingly little” of its donors’ money with pet shelters.

None of this information instills confidence that my donations will actually help people do the difficult and many times unheralded work that is done in local shelters.

So it is difficult to get behind a measure that would essentially bestow a blessing by the State of California on donations to HSUS as a meaningful contribution to animal welfare. This would be a disservice to taxpayers.

AB 485 has a lot going for it, but before a vote of support is given, members of the Legislature need to be guided by how much of those donations in fact go to the cause they purport to represent.

The legislature should amend AB 485 to include that a minimum of 50% – 65% of the funds will go toward protecting pets.

Everyone wants to prevent cruelty to dogs and cats, but paying salaries and administrative costs, while less than 1% of the money goes to protecting animals isn’t the right way to fulfill that mission.

Patrick Dorinson is a radio talk show host and commentator who goes by the name “The Cowboy Libertarian.” He can be heard on a radio program with the same name Saturdays, from 5-7 p.m. PT on iHEART Radio’s KFBK radio in Sacramento, California.

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