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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Land Trust Alliance Endorses Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2017

Bill Continues to Reward Honest Philanthropy While Shutting Down Abuse

Press Release – WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 28, 2017) – The Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization working to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America, today endorsed the proposed federal Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2017.

Introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson of California, a Democrat, and Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, a Republican, the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act (H.R. 4459) would eliminate the ability of partnership investors to profit from the donation of a conservation easement on land held for a short period of time. The bill’s language makes clear that conservation easement donations, like other charitable donations, are not intended to be opportunities to generate a profit.

“Not all donations of conservation easements are created equal,” said Andrew Bowman, the Alliance’s president. “While the vast majority are truly charitable endeavors, a few bad actors are promoting conservation easement donations as a way for investors to make a fast profit by gaining access to very large federal tax deductions. These transactions are essentially tax shelters and cannot be allowed to continue.”

IRS data released earlier this year show that a sampling of these transactions enabled investors to claim, on average, deductions valued at nine times the amount of their original investment.

“The bloated nature of these transactions also appears to be showing up in the amount of federal deductions that taxpayers are claiming from the donation of conservation easements,” Bowman said. “In the most current data available, the value of conservation easements donated nearly tripled – from $1.1 billion to $3.2 billion – from 2013 to 2014.”

The Alliance has worked for years to counter this abuse, pressing the IRS to shut down these transactions and taking a number of actions to help its member land trusts identify and avoid these deals, all while ensuring honest philanthropy continues to be rewarded. But because these deals continue to be promoted, Reps. Thompson and Kelly introduced the bipartisan Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act.

“Conservation easements are important incentives that have already protected and preserved millions of acres of land across our country,” said Rep. Thompson. “Unfortunately, some bad actors have abused these incentives, taking advantage of the tax code to make fast and large profits at the expense of American taxpayers. The legislation I’ve introduced, the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, will strengthen conservation easements by preventing abuse, ensuring this important conservation tool remains sustainable.”

“On this Giving Tuesday, Americans across the nation generously support the work of charities that enrich and enhance our lives and our communities,” said Rep. Kelly. “The federal charitable tax deduction for conservation easements helps donors motivated by generosity to protect their land. That is why Congressman Thompson and I worked hard to make it permanent two years ago. It is an important tool that helps protect and preserve natural areas and working farms, ranches, and forests in my own state of Pennsylvania and in communities across America. But some have found a way to abuse the intent of this provision. That is why I am proud to introduce the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, which will prevent abuse of this charitable donation for good while keeping the important incentives in place.”

Bowman applauded Reps. Thompson and Kelly for crafting a bill that is straightforward and narrowly drafted.

“All of us at the Alliance sincerely hope this bill will become law and end these abusive transactions,” he said. “Beginning today, we call on our land trust members and all Americans who care about land conservation to advocate aggressively for passage of the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act. A world in which abusive deals are allowed to continue poses grave threats to the land trust community and cheats all taxpayers, so please join us in seizing this excellent opportunity to put an end to these transactions.”

For more information, visit www.landtrustalliance.org.

About the Land Trust Alliance

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents 1,000 member land trusts supported by more than 200,000 volunteers and 4.6 million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C., and operates several regional offices. More information about the Alliance is available at www.landtrustalliance.org.


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