Ivy League Professors Launch Website to Donate Tax-Cut Proceeds to Charity

PHOTO: (L-R)Robert Hockett, Jacob S. Hacker, Daniel MarkovitsPlayCourtesy Sheryl Sinkow/Michael Marsland/Yale
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President Obama and his Republican rivals may have reached a compromise for a tax plan, but a group of Ivy League professors says the plan unfairly favors the wealthy -- and is encouraging taxpayers take a stand by donating their tax cuts to charity.

Three professors -- two from Yale and one from Cornell -- have launched GiveItBackForJobs.org, a website that allows visitors to calculate their tax cuts and pledge some of the money to charity.

"You can see what your tax cut is and, if you can afford it, you can support the kinds of programs the government would be supporting," said Daniel Markovits, a professor at Yale Law School. "It allows you to tie your charitable donations to a statement of principle that taxes should be more equally distributed."

Markovits said the tax compromise, which extended the Bush-era tax cuts, decreases funding supporting programs for the economically disadvantaged and disproportionately helps the wealthy. Current income taxes, which have a maximum rate of 35 percent, are the lower than the 50 percent under President Reagan, according to Markovits.

"You have a great deal of inequality, hardship in the middle class, and fiscal policy that's not distributing the burden equally. The tax deal that the Obama administration made combined modest stimulus to the middle class with huge giveaways to the wealthy."

Markovits said he and the others chose the name of this year's website to highlight that more jobs are what are needed for the middle class to recover from the economic downturn. He said tax cuts for the wealthy will not stimulate the economy as Republicans have argued.

"Tax cuts to working class families and unemployment benefits are more likely to get spent. Those are definitely effective stimulus measures," said Markovits. "Tax cuts for the wealthy are not the most effective stimulus measures for their cost to the budget deficit -- not even close."

Robert Hockett, professor of law at Cornell Law School, said the website's goal is to promote public discourse before the expiration of the current tax cuts around 2012.

Hockett and Markovits started the site with Jacob Hacker, a political science professor at Yale University. They say the goal is not to raise money for charity or to replace government programs.

"The danger is that people who support the tax cuts for the wealthy may say it's more effective to just give to charity," said Hockett, a long-time friend of Markovits. "Our own thought is that charity is a very important virtue but not a replacement for good fiscal policy."

The professors started a similar website in 2005, GiveBackTheTaxCut.org, to raise money for relief from Hurricane Katrina. It is no longer live, but Hockett said the sentiment behind it was similar to that of GiveItBackForJobs.org. In 2005, they were protesting the Bush administration's tax cuts for the wealthy when a lack of funds and attention to its poorest residents in New Orleans exacerbated the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

The professors have already generated criticism, including an opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal website that called the site the "nitwittiest idea of the year." James Taranto, columnist and editor of the newspaper's online editorial page, calls GiveItBackForJobs.org "the cognitive elite's version of a tax revolt."

Guy Saperstein, star lawyer and co-founder of another pro-tax group, "Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength," said he supported the political statement of the professors' group. He said the country needs a permanent improvement to its tax policy.

"America's revenue problems will never be solved by 'voluntary' donations of taxes back to the government," said Saperstein.

Markovits said the website will eventually publish the pledged amount to the linked charities, which include Habitat for Humanity, the Children's Aid Society and the Salvation Army, and the professors will share it with legislators and organizations that address tax policy.

"We chose charities that are highly respected, well rated by charity organizations and that focus on the interest and needs of working Americans," said Markovits.

The charities the group highlighted all have a job focus, according to Markovits. One of the reasons the group chose Habitat for Humanity is it provides job or life-skills training about real estate. He also noted it is the eighth largest homebuilder in the nation based on homes sold and closed.

The children's charities, on the other hand, provide the education needed for a skilled workforce.

"These are jobs programs in one way or another," Markovits said.

Hockett and Markovits said the response to the website has been "positive," though it's too early to gauge the site traffic or amount pledged. The professors say they do not have a dollar amount, or website traffic level, to measure their success."

"Obviously we'd like to raise money because these charities are worthy causes that will help people," said Markovits. "What would make this a success is if it contributes to a more just and prudent fiscal policy."