Leona Helmsley’s latest post-mortem shocker—the revelation that she earmarked $8 billion of her charitable bequest for dog welfare—is a perfect illustration of the insanity of our charity laws, writes Ray Madoff for the New York Times. Helmsley isn’t just spending her own money; because charitable donations are tax-free, the government is essentially subsidizing her whims to the tune of $3.6 billion.
"To put it in perspective," he writes, "our contribution to Mrs. Helmsley’s cause equals approximately half of what we spend on Head Start, a program that benefits 900,000 children." Helmsley’s gift, moreover, went into a charitable trust, which need only spend 5% of its wealth a year—including paying trustees and expenses. There should be a limit on the estate tax charitable deduction, Madoff writes, and we should "stop subsidizing immortality" by requiring foundations to spend more of their assets on charitable work.