NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tax-Form Checkoffs For Donations Being Questioned

August 31, 2001

Is it appropriate for states to include checkoff boxes for charity donations on tax forms? In a number of states, taxpayers are presented with a list of charities and asked to write in an amount they want to go to one or more of them -- with the money usually deducted from their refunds.

The charities range from those dedicated to breast cancer or Alzheimer's research to wildlife protection projects. But critics say it is improper for the state to participate in fund-raising for private entities.

  • Taxpayers in 41 states and the District of Columbia encountered at least 170 such choices this year -- up from 103 in 1989, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.
  • About one-fifth of all checkoffs are concentrated in California, Alabama and Virginia.
  • All checkoffs combined pulled in $27.3 million nationally in the 2000 tax-processing year -- compared with $30.1 million from returns filed in 1990.
  • The increase in the number of organizations being listed combined with the decline in giving means that each charity has been collecting less and less.

State officials point out that the checkoff boxes have added to tax form clutter, and report that taxpayer confusion has led some of them to unintentionally give away anticipated refunds.

A few brave politicians in some states have moved to eliminate the checkoffs. But one of them notes that such moves are not politically popular -- likening the effort to introducing a bill to kill women and children.

Source: Anne Marie Chaker, "Should Tax Forms Provide Space for Donations? Check Box (or Not)," Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2001.

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