Saturday, December 20th, 2014

The Obameter

Support tax deduction for artists

Will "ensure tax fairness for artists" by supporting the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "The Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions."


Updates

No new tax deduction for value of artwork

In his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama called himself a "champion for arts and culture.” Part of his arts platform was to create a tax deduction for artists who donate their work. Almost four years later, it hasn't happened.

Here's the background: Congress has considered bills about an artist tax deduction every session since 2000. The most consistent supporter has been Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who introduced the Artist-Museum Partnership Act six times. On one of those occasions, then-Sen. Obama supported the bill and signed on as a co-sponsor in 2007.

Under the current tax code, an artist can deduct the cost of supplies used to create donated artwork, but not the fair market value of the art itself. In a 2007 statement, Leahy said the measure would eliminate "a disincentive for artists to donate their works to museums and libraries.”

The American Association of Museums says the effect of the current tax code is "works of local, regional, and national significance are sold into private hands and are never made available to the public.”

Since Obama became president, bills have been introduced in the House and Senate, again. Both remain stuck in committee.

We searched for any trace of Obama supporting the bill as president. He didn't use his bully pulpit either in public addresses or media interviews, but "if the bill were presented to him, we believe he would sign it,” said Dewey Blanton, a spokesman for the American Association of Museums.

Since we can't find any evidence of Obama fighting for this bill as president, much less signing it, we rate this a Promise Broken.

Sources:

Interview with Dewey Blanton, director of strategic communications for American Association of Museums, July 12, 2012

Statement by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, Feb. 12, 2007 (subscription)

BarackObama.com, Barack Obama: A Champion for Arts and Culture, 2008

H.R.1190, Artist-Museum Partnership Act of 2011, March 17, 2011

S.930, Art and Collectibles Capital Gains Tax Treatment Parity Act, May 10, 2011

House bill exists but long odds of passage this year

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "ensure tax fairness for artists” by supporting the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "The Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions," the Obama campaign said.

Prior to 1969, artists could deduct the value of the work from their taxes. Afraid that artists were taking advantage of the exemption by inflating the value of their work, Congress put restrictions in the Tax Reform Act of 1969, thus establishing the law that exists today.

Critics say this has diminished contributions to tax-exempt organizations. The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to "allow taxpayers who create literary, musical, artistic, or scholarly compositions or similar property a fair market value ... tax deduction for contributions of such properties, the copyrights thereon, or both, to certain tax-exempt organizations."

In fact, the Artist-Museum Partnership Act has been introduced in every congressional session since 2003, but it has never passed.

When we last checked on this promise, Leahy had re-introduced the bill, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., introduced a version in the House. However, it did not pass during the 2009-2010 congressional session.

On March 17, 2011, Lewis reintroduced the bill in the House. Since then, it hasn"t advanced even to a hearing, and it has attracted only 11 co-sponsors, seven Democrats and four Republicans. Meanwhile, Leahy has not reintroduced the bill in the Senate.

The likelihood that little legislation will pass in a presidential election year means that the chance of passage before the end of Obama"s first term is slim. We rate this promise Stalled.

Sources:

Artist-Museum Partnership Act in THOMAS

Bills introduced in Congress

During the campaign, Barack Obama promised to help artists get some love from the Internal Revenue Service.

Under current U.S. tax law, individuals who donate a self-created work of art to a non-profit institution can only deduct the cost of the materials used to create the work from their taxable income. At least in the tax world, the value of the work itself is considered inconsequential. Critics, including President Obama, argue that the unintended consequence of this restriction is a decline in the number of art contributions to tax-exempt organizations.

To address the issue, President Obama has pledged to support and sign into law the Artist-Museum Partnership Act. The law would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to "allow taxpayers who create literary, musical, artistic, or scholarly compositions or similar property a fair market value ... tax deduction for contributions of such properties, the copyrights thereon, or both, to certain tax-exempt organizations."

Neither the Artist-Museum Partnership Act nor tax exemptions for artists are new ideas. In fact, prior to 1969, artists could actually deduct the value of the work from their taxes. Afraid that artists were taking advantage of the exemption by inflating the value of their work, however, Congress put restrictions in the Tax Reform Act of 1969, thus setting down the law that exists today. The Artist-Museum Partnership Act has been introduced in every congressional session since 2003, but it has never passed.

On Feb. 10, 2009, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Artist-Museum Partnership Act of 2009, a bill virtually identical to the previously introduced versions. Thirteen days later, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., introduced the same bill in the House. According to Leahy, Congress no longer has to worry about possible abuses, because since 1969, "the government has cut down significantly on the abuse of fair market value determinations."

The bills have a long way to go, but for now, they are both under consideration of Congress. So we rate the promise In the Works.   

Sources:

Office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, Introduction Of The Artist-Museum Partnership Act Of 2007 , Feb. 12, 2007.

Thomas, Library of Congress, CRS Summary of H.R. 1126 .

Thomas, Library of Congress, CRS Summary of S. 394 .