Private charitable efforts are as American as can be. Toqueville noted our vigorous civil society back in the early days:
Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society.
The tax law recognizes this all-American tendency in Sec. 501(c)(3), which grants a tax exemption for associations with the proper purpose, like those in the headlines.
So along comes Eddie C. Risdal from Iowa. Eddie wanted tax exemption for a cause dear to his heart, “Mysteryboy Incorporation”:
MENBERS SHALL NOT PROMOOT, BUT WILL NOT DENY THE FACT OF PAST & PRESENT HUMAN HISTORY THAT HUMANKIND FROM YOUTH ON-THROUGH ADULTHOOD HAS IN MAJORITY BEEN SEXUAL ACTIVE WHETHER BE IN PROMISIOUS, DEVENTCY, OR EXPERIMENTATION SEXUAL ACTS, AND MENBERS WILL PROMOOT SAFE SEX EDUCATION AND SAY NO TO ILLEGAL DRUGS USES UNTIL THE EVENT THAT THEY BECOME LEGALIZED, MENBERS WILL PROMOOT FEED THE HUNGARY, SUEICIDE PREVENTION AND ANY AMENDED PROGRAMS AS THE INCORPORATION FINDS SUCH A PUBLIC NEED TO ADD SUCH PROGRAMS THAT WILL BENEFIT SOCIETY AT LARGE.
The IRS somehow found this suspicious and asked a few more questions. They came to this conclusion:
The facts of this case show that Mysteryboy Incorporation was organized and operating primarily for influencing a change in the laws concerning sexual exploitation of children.
The Tax Court found that cause a bit too close to Eddie’s heart (my emphasis):
The activities in which petitioner proposes to engage seek to decriminalize the type of behavior (1) for which Mr. Risdal, petitioner’s founder, sole director, sole officer, and executive director, was convicted and incarcerated and (2) which formed the basis for his having been adjudicated a sexually violent predator subject to civil commitment under Iowa Code Ann. ch. 229A (West 2006).10 On the record before us, we find that petitioner has failed to show that those activities will not provide Mr. Risdal with a platform from which he will seek to legitimize the illegal behaviors in which he has engaged, for which he was convicted, and which formed the basis on which he is civilly committed under the laws of the State of Iowa. On that record, we find that petitioner has failed to carry its burden of establishing that its proposed activities will not further the private interests of Mr. Risdal in violation of section 501(c)(3) and the regulations thereunder.
The moral? Civil society ends where civil commitment begins.
Joe Kristan is a tax shareholder for Roth & Company, a Des Moines, Iowa CPA firm, where he works with closely-held businesses and their owners. Prior to helping start Roth & Company, he worked for two of what are now the Final Four CPA firms. He writes the Tax Update Blog and is available for seminars, first communions, Bar Mitzvahs, etc. You can see all his posts for GC here.