Mitt Romney is not big on specifics. He’s got a fairy-tale five-point plan, tax math that doesn’t add up, and who can tell where he stands on foreign policy these days. So when Mitt is willing to get specific ... we should all be paying attention.
Romney has proposed trillions in new tax cuts, and so far has only proposed one concrete way to offset that budget-busting cost: Capping itemized tax deductions at $17,000, $25,000 or $50,000 (he’s floated several different numbers).
Let’s ignore, for the moment, that this cap could still hit middle-class families. Let’s skip over the fact that the richest folks will still make out like bandits thanks to the massive rate cuts that Romney proposes. Let’s even pretend that capping deductions would come close to paying for those tax cuts. It’s still an incredibly dangerous proposal.
This cap would be a dagger in the side of foundations, hospitals, nonprofits, museums and community organizations that rely on charitable giving -- because most of that giving would no longer be tax deductible. No tax deduction, no big incentive to donate. As Jon Perr aptly puts it, Romney’s plan would “choke off charitable giving.” (And, as he notes, Romney’s estate tax repeal would do even more damage.)
Here’s my take: Romney is fully aware of this fact. It isn’t an unfortunate side effect. It is, in fact, the next step in the conservative strategy to undermine the foundations of the progressive movement.
Where would Romney get such an idea? Go pick up a copy of "The New Leviathan," the latest book from conservative conspiracy theorist David Horowitz. Foundations and nonprofits, Horowitz argues, represent a shadowy left-wing network of financial power determined to reshape America.
The book is riddled with errors and, no surprise, dramatically overstates his case. For the most part, charitable organizations are devoted to just that -- charity. They help sick kids, rebuild communities, get struggling families back on their feet, educate the next generation, provide arts and music, and more. Hundreds of groups have already lined up to protect the charitable tax deduction, and to be clear, they aren’t a partisan political bloc. They’re institutions and organizations committed to selflessly serving our communities and strengthening our nation.
But I don’t think Horowitz much cares about museums and nonprofit hospitals. I think he’s got his eye on the few nonprofits that are key pillars of progressive infrastructure -- the think tanks that dream up new ways to tackle our nation’s problems or fight right-wing lies in the media, the centers that train young people who want to serve their communities, and the foundations that fund so much of this work. He’s making the same argument that conservatives already make about unions, casting organizations fighting for everyday Americans as part of some hogwash conspiracy directed by the likes of George Soros.
And we already know where that road leads. We have watched as conservative governors who were elected to solve problems instead set out to destroy their political opponents. We witnessed what happened in Wisconsin, when Gov. Scott Walker’s first priority was not jobs, but stripping collective bargaining rights -- but only from the unions that opposed him, not those who supported his candidacy.
Which brings us back to Mitt Romney. Yes, he would make our nation more unequal, chase away allies, tilt the Supreme Court further to the right, and kick our economy back into recession. But anyone who thinks he wouldn’t also target his political opponents is ignoring history. Capping the tax deduction to help pay for tax cuts for the rich was already a bad idea -- but the deeper you dig, the worse it sounds.