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June 19, 2007

One Small Thing

Someone sent me an e-mail noting (in a humorous fashion) that it was very clever of me to collect up all your money for a donation I can take a tax deduction on. Not that I think any of you were particularly worried about this, but in case you were, no, I have no plans to take a deduction for the donation. It wasn't my money, I was just passing it on. I don't think it would be very ethical for me to take the deduction.

However, I am taking the American Express points I got for charging the donation to my card. Because daddy needs a free trip. Hope you don't mind.

Posted by john at June 19, 2007 04:01 PM

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Dwight Brown | June 19, 2007 04:09 PM

"Hope you don't mind."

I don't, but then I don't have a say in it. (I didn't give any money, because there was something about trying to make you go someplace you didn't want to go, even if it was in fun and for a good cause, that made me unconfortable.)

However, since it looks like you're going anyway, I would like to make a humble and respectful request: please, Mr. Scalzi, sir, if the museum does have a cafe or someplace that sells food, could you provide a review of the offerings there as part of your writeup?

(I checked the website, but it isn't clear to me if the museum does or does not have a cafe. Which, I think, says something about either their web design or my stupidity.)

(And it is a source of great disappointment to me that you can't get Creation Museum shotglasses.)

Jeremiah | June 19, 2007 04:40 PM

Don't you love it when people accuse you of some bad thing, and it really didn't even cross your mind? yeah.

John Scalzi | June 19, 2007 04:45 PM

To be clear, the fellow was saying it humorously; he wasn't accusing me of anything. But I thought it was worth mentioning publicly.

Abe | June 19, 2007 05:05 PM

Hey, could you check if the cafeteria offerings at the museum are kosher?

I'm not Jewish, my dad is. I don't want him to feel disenfranchised in the nonreligion-specific museum of creationism.

Robert Lauderdale | June 19, 2007 05:08 PM

Wonder if the hypothetical Creationist Museum Cafe refuses to serve anything made with apples--you know, the whole Tree of Knowledge thing.

Graeme Williams | June 19, 2007 05:10 PM

What I've done in roughly similar situations is to increase the donation to the point where the tax benefit cancels the increase.

For example, suppose your marginal tax rate was 33% and the total contribution was $1000. You give $1500 to the charity and take the tax deduction, which is worth $500. In effect, Uncle Sam is adding $500 to the donation.

On the other hand, you might reasonably consider this to be ripping off Uncle Same -- my point is arithmetic rather than moral.

Pablo Defendini | June 19, 2007 05:17 PM

Fine by me. Besides, you could, in theory, use the points on your AmEx to offset the traveling costs to the museum. Gas (I assume you will be driving?) is expensive these days, I hear.

nisleib | June 19, 2007 05:46 PM

I know you were drafted and don't really want to go, and I admire your willingness to go to such an extravagantly silly local as the creation museum. It is indeed quite the selfless act and I eagerly await your report.

My wife and I would never have the internal fortitude to go on such a journey. I was thinking of you and your sacrifice today when I rented "Night at the Museum." I haven't seen it yet but from the sounds of it the main difference between the movie and the Creation Museum is one is intentionally funny and the other is accidentally funny (I haven’t seen the movie or the museum so for all I know neither are funny).

Godspeed Scalzi, may the Force be with you

P.S. - Don't worry about the airline miles. I am a CPA and I know what a nightmare accounting for them is. I usually follow a "don't ask, don't tell" policy where airline miles are concerned.

alkali | June 19, 2007 05:49 PM

It wasn't my money, I was just passing it on. I don't think it would be very ethical for me to take the deduction.

Nor very legal, if you are not declaring the money as income (which I take it you are not).

(Which is a long way of saying that the legal rule conforms to common sense here.)

htom | June 19, 2007 06:08 PM

I suspect that if you declare it as income you'll be behind even if you do take the deduction (and that if you don't the government will claim that you should have, and then you'll be really behind; consult your own tax accountant and lawyer.)


Whichever you do, I will not be mailing you coconuts!

thanbo | June 19, 2007 06:09 PM

>fortitude to go on such a journey

Oh, I don't know. It could be worth it for the entertainment value and for the insight into how the other half thinks.

Debbie & I were driving through Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and stopped into the "Desert Tabernacle Model" - a half-scale model of the Tabernacle in the Desert (as described towards the end of the book of Exodus). The model wasn't really open unless you took the tour and listened to the speeches, and once we took a look around the gift shop, we realized what it was - a Jew Trap. The shop was filled with books on witnessing to Jews, converting Jews, etc., as well as generic Christian (Protestant) materials. We flipped through some of the books, and left.

Steve Buchheit | June 19, 2007 06:10 PM

I would be so upset, except I don't have a paypal account and couldn't give. Plus, you did pay for the call, and doing the handling and all that. Small change compared to your basic consulting fee. I think we got off fairly cheap. :)

Last year was the first the Village had arranged to have separate metal only containers for our Village Clean-Up Day. We hire in three large roll-off containers and spend a Saturday morning filling them up with all the large stuff they have been collecting for a year. We pay for those roll-offs, and we pay over-time for our Village Employees to be there to help (with the front loader, and to unload trucks). Some of us councilmen also show up to volunteer. And we had some new containers, at no charge to the Village, that if we had enough valuable metals for scrap and recycling we would get some money back.

It's about $2000 for the containers and our employee's time. We made $175 on the metal recycling. And we got calls about how the Village was profiting at the citizens' expense because we were taking all this metal away from them. Seriously.

Sometimes it's hard to volunteer.

Anonymous | June 19, 2007 06:20 PM


That apple / tree of knowledge thing is something they really should worry about. If people get knowledge, then they won't believe anything in the creationist museum.

Patrick M. | June 19, 2007 06:42 PM

Don't worry about the airline miles. I am a CPA and I know what a nightmare accounting for them is.

Wha? IS THERE NO FREE MONEY IN THIS WORLD? What next, will I need to be taxed on my sixth sub being free at Subway?

It's not income, it's bulk discount...

For the record, I have never received any mileage points or free sandwiches and there is no reason to audit me. Right?

marnie | June 19, 2007 06:48 PM

I don't know what it says about me that I wouldn't care less if you did take the tax deduction, but I am really curious how much Pay Pal got of our donations :)

Steve Buchheit | June 19, 2007 07:10 PM

Plus, I think we all feel better knowing we were helping to finance the Scalzi trips following the choicest of snow conditions to practice his snowboarding so that his next appearance in the X-Games or Olympics won't be such an embarassement.

Chang, for rizzle. | June 19, 2007 07:57 PM

You'll need a vacation after going to The Kentucky Palace of Obfuscation and Unintelligent Design.

clvrmnky | June 19, 2007 08:07 PM

Dude. We are sending you to the /creation museum/. You deserve the free freaking trip.

Oh hell. Take the deduction, too.

Rahkan | June 19, 2007 08:30 PM

If you don't take the deduction, aren't you going to have to pay gift taxes on all the donations (which presumably went to you before you gave them to that church/state group)?

John Scalzi | June 19, 2007 08:35 PM

Dunno. I'll check with my accountant.

Cassie | June 19, 2007 09:56 PM

Gift taxes don't kick in until a single donor gives $11,000. I don't think John's in any danger with his $5K.

Annalee Flower Horne | June 19, 2007 10:16 PM

I'm with the popular opinion here: you're walking into that place, which means you're going to get stupid all over you. That stuff stains, man. You deserve the points.

Jim Wright | June 19, 2007 11:24 PM

aren't you going to have to pay gift taxes on all the donations?

Bawhahahaha! Just goes to show you that the old adage: "No good deed goes unpunished" still holds true.

Seth Breidbart | June 19, 2007 11:46 PM

Gift taxes are paid by the donor, not the recipient. They don't kick in for the first $12,000/year (double if either is married, again if both are).

But can the contributors take the tax deduction?

(Is the ultimate beneficiary 501(c)(3)?)

Branko Collin | June 20, 2007 05:54 AM

"I don't think it would be very ethical for me to take the deduction."

By not taking the deduction, you are sponsoring the current administration, and you know how they stand on this whole creationism thing. The ethical thing would be to take the deduction. If you then still feel bad, you can give the deduction to the au.org, as somebody else proposed.

Branko Collin | June 20, 2007 06:00 AM

BTW, something strikes me as odd. I am not an American though, so I don't know too much about your tax laws. If you deducted the gift, doesn't that mean you'd have to report the contributing gifts as income? The way I figured it, you are just a proxy for the payments, and the original donors can deduct their donations, but not you.

alkali | June 20, 2007 09:15 AM

Branko is correct that the original donors may be able to deduct their donations. AU is a 501(c)(3) organization. (I am on the lower-case-c conservative side and will not take the deduction; it wouldn't be worth trying to explain to the IRS why my supporting paperwork includes a talking T-Rex asking, "I can has coconuts?")

Seth Breidbart is correct that gift taxes are paid by the donor and not the recipient, and so Scalzi wouldn't owe any gift tax.

(Essentially, the gift tax exists to so that people who give their property away during their lifetimes are treated the same for tax purposes as people who leave an estate when they die. The gift tax only kicks in if you give a particular person more than $12,000 in a year. There is also a $1.5 million "unified credit" that you can apply either to gifts given during your lifetime or to your estate. For example, if you gave Scalzi $1,000,000 and then died and left your remaining $1,000,000 estate to Scalzi, you wouldn't need to pay any gift tax and your estate would only pay tax on the $500,000 above the $1.5 million total credit. Scalzi himself would pay nothing although the estate he inherits would be reduced by the estate tax.)

Tor | June 20, 2007 10:31 AM

Well, I'm not going to take the deduction, so you are free to take it yourself. I assumed that I was donating the $10, which would get passed on to the 501(c)(3), as well as giving the deduction to Scalzi, which would be at least $11,990 under my gift tax alotment for what I can give to him this year, so you are free to take it for your pain, suffering, and the handling of the multiple gifts to the charity. Although it still could need to be declared as income by Scalzi before he could take the deduction (I forget whether gifts could be subject to double taxation (if over $12,000/person) with regard to the gift tax initially paid, and then the income tax). There's a reason why I did so poorly in Estate and Gift Tax class.

Deb G. | June 20, 2007 05:21 PM

When I was elected to a school committee (New England's answer to a board of education) some years ago, I discovered that there was a small stipend (paid by the town) attached to the job. I donated it back to the school district's fund-raising efforts and considered it money well spent. Didn't bother deducting it.

Then found that they'd kept withholding and sent me a 1099...on money that I'd simply filtered for them. And there was no provision by the town treasurer's office to "pre-donate" -- before they took out the taxes.

Government bureaucracy knows no bounds.

Michael Pereckas | June 20, 2007 05:59 PM

If you can accumulate enough "points" to actually be able to do something with them, then yay for you, and go for it.

And of course the donation would only be deductible at this end if I was itemizing deductions, and though I thought I had a nifty, reasonably good-paying job thanks to all my education and everything, the standard deduction is far bigger than any deductions I can imagine having.

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