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Giving, Till It Hurts

By Al Kamen
Friday, February 27, 2009

Overlooked by many in President Obama's budget proposal is a provision that would reduce by 20 percent the amount wealthy people can deduct from their taxes for making charitable donations. This is big business, especially here in Washington. Most of the federal city's major think tanks and policy institutes -- not to mention its food banks, homeless shelters and other social service agencies -- are nonprofit organizations funded by private donors.

Under the administration's plan, households earning more than $250,000 a year would have their itemized tax deductions for charitable giving capped. So instead of getting a 35 percent deduction, on par with their income tax bracket, they would get a 28 percent deduction.

Because many affluent folks cut checks to charities partly to dodge taxes, news of the proposed change set the nonprofit world abuzz yesterday. CNBC's Maria Bartiromo started things off in the morning by saying that the impact on charities is an "unintended consequence" of Obama's fiscal restraint and warning that donations could "go off a cliff." House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) was quoted as saying the potential decline in philanthropic giving is "clearly one of our concerns."

Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, a national membership organization of charities, said the change "could be a disincentive to some donors who might further cap their gifts on account of the new limit." She added: "This could be a problem for many struggling nonprofits vital to our communities that are already facing a very difficult fundraising environment."

UNDONE DEAL

The widely expected nomination of Mark Gitenstein, a longtime aide to Vice President Biden, for the job of assistant attorney general for legal policy, the point office for judicial selections, is not happening.

The choice of Gitenstein, a highly regarded Washington lawyer and longtime chief Democratic counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden formerly chaired, had been considered a done deal, what with his Biden connection and many friends in the legal community.

But some liberal opposition, including a campaign against him by Public Citizen, was sharply critical of his legal work for a number of business clients and most especially for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That forced the White House to reconsider the nomination, Roll Call reported Wednesday.

That opposition overcame strong support for Gitenstein from other liberals and also from influential Obama campaign insiders, a source told us yesterday. There are other lawyers who might like the job, including George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton, a leading Democrat and big-time bundler of contributions for the Obama campaign.

PROGNOSIS QUESTIONABLE

It's been seven weeks since we noted that neurosurgeon and CNN medical reporter Sanjay Gupta, one of People Magazine's Sexiest Men for 2003, was in line to be nominated as surgeon general. But then time passed and former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle's nomination to run the Department of Health and Human Services blew up, much to Gupta's dismay. Buzz is that he's now rethinking whether the job is as attractive as it had appeared. The answer may be linked to the future of the proposed White House Office of Health Reform, which Daschle was also to head, and what part Gupta will play on the new team.

Meanwhile, as Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) continues her Hamlet impersonation over the HHS secretaryship, there's chatter in the White House complex, our colleague Ceci Connolly reports, that another contender, Nancy-Ann DeParle, who was a top HHS official in the Clinton administration, may be a better bet for running that White House health office. Some folks felt her lucrative work for a number of health companies might open her to criticism. The White House job, if the administration decides to keep it, doesn't require Senate confirmation.

AIDS OFFICE GETS A CHIEF

Jeffrey Crowley, a senior research scholar at Georgetown University, has been named director of the Office of National AIDS Policy and will also help "guide the administration's development of disability policies," the White House announced. Crowley, who had been deputy director for programs at the National Association of People With AIDS, will also be a member of the president's Domestic Policy Council.

HOLDER GETS A DEPUTY

The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving to make sure Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is not home alone at the Justice Department. The committee voted 14 to 5 yesterday to approve the nomination of David W. Ogden to be deputy attorney general. Ogden, former head of Justice's civil division, was nominated Jan. 5 for the job.

Committee Republicans temporarily delayed votes on two other nominations, Tom Perrelli to be associate attorney general and Elena Kagan to be solicitor general, although a vote on them is expected next week.

With Philip Rucker

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