September 25, 2008 by Brian
Update: The so-called “Citizens for a Worthy Cause” that support this are really the very organizations that receive the tax revenue. See here.
Ballot Issue 1B: It’s not Your Penny to Give
by Brian T. Schwartz
Would you call the police on someone who didn’t donate to a charity that you consider to be a “worthy cause”? If not, then you should oppose County Issue 1B in this November’s election, which would extend the so-called “Worthy Cause” sales tax. This tax is immoral — regardless of how worthy the causes are. It is compulsory charity, or charity at gun-point. It is intolerant to people’s values and unfair to charities that must earn our donations. It undermines both the responsibility of donors and the accountability of non-profits that receive forced donations.
The compulsory charity tax represents the tyranny of the majority. Recipients of the tax revenues are politically-favored charitable organizations in Boulder County. Generous Boulder County residents can and do donate to these organizations. But in 2000, a half-percent majority of voters supported the measure, which makes it a crime for Boulder County consumers not to donate to these charities. You can end up in behind bars.
This is an offensive display of arrogance and intolerance. In 2000, almost 67,000 voters voted for the tax. Apparently it’s not enough for these supporters to donate to charities they deem “worthy.” They asked government to impose their values on everyone else, as if they are anointed to declare what the real “worthy causes” are. But there’s no compassion in spending other people’s money by force.
Compulsory charity is unfair to non-profits who do not receive government subsidies. Every dollar you’re taxed to fund politically-favored charities is a dollar you could have given to a charity that actually earned your donation. We appropriately disapprove when government legislates to give certain businesses advantage over competitors. We should also object to politically-favored government-subsidized charities.
Compulsory charity undermines your responsibility to promote your chosen values. Say you care about whether people receive adequate health care, housing, or education. The last thing you want is for government to address the issue. Government is unaccountable to you as a donor; it gets your tax dollars even if you think it’s squandering your tax dollars. This lack of accountability gives government-funded charities little incentive to be efficient or effective. By empowering government, you disempower yourself.
Compare this to donating to a charity yourself. You’re the customer. Charities know that to keep your donations coming, they must demonstrate that they are a worthy cause. You can read the organization’s literature and website, talk to their employees, or read performance evaluations by Charity Navigator and GuideStar.org.
GuideStar envisions “an increasingly efficient nonprofit marketplace where donors seek out and compare charities, monitor their performances, and give with greater confidence; nonprofit organizations pursue more effective operating practices, embrace greater accountability, and enjoy lower fund-raising costs; and society benefits from a more efficient, generous and well-targeted allocation of resources to the nonprofit sector.”
Supporters of the “Worthy Cause” tax claim that without it, worthy causes would not have sufficient funds. But the alternative to the compulsory charity tax is not “doing nothing.” The alternative is to take responsibility for supporting your values by donating money yourself and persuading others to donate.
Remember the 67,000 voters who originally supported the tax? If they thought these causes are so important, they should put their money where their vote is. This year’s Boulder County budget includes $3.5 million in the “Worthy Cause Fund.” Instead of voting to force their neighbors to donate to charity, a $50 tax-deductible donation would provide this revenue.
Another common argument in support of compulsory charity is that “we all benefit from it.” But do we? The poor also pay the sales tax, but could benefit more by using their hard-earned money to provide for their families. That $3.5 million can create other values, either through other charities or businesses that create jobs.
In any case, just because you benefit from something does not mean you must pay for it. We benefit if others have food, shelter, clothing, and good hygiene, but this doesn’t mean government should force us to buy food, shelter, clothing, and soap for others.
Some claim that these are necessities of life are “rights.” They are not. Rights are freedoms of action, not entitlements to what others produce.
The “Worthy Cause” tax empowers authorities to decide for others what causes are more “worthy” than others. This is an elitist and intolerant, and has no place in a civil society. Ballot Issue 1B isn’t about “a penny for a worthy cause,” it’s about compulsory charity. If you want to donate your own penny, that’s great. But your neighbors’ pennies are not yours to give.