In an article in the Washington Post, and other national news sources have reported on a Leavitt family foundation which falls very close to one of the IRS' Dirty Dozen tax scams. The foundation failed to meet giving requirements of 5% of assets for 2002, 2003, and 2004 (see returns here) Mike Leavitt claimed 1.2 million in deductions since 2000, while the foundation gave 332,000 to Leavitt Land and Investment, Inc. a land investment company which Sec. Leavitt owns a large stake, and other secured loans for insurance and real estate deals.
Leavitt's Secretary Christina Pearson made a statement that "the foundation's activities are totally legal and proper."However, Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, said that "the Leavitts are using the foundation as a personal piggy bank, and that's not what the public -- or Congress -- ought to tolerate." Use of "charitable" foundations are often abused as IRS Commissioner notes, "Some promoters in this area have encouraged individuals to establish and operate supporting organizations . . . that they can control for their own benefit. There are a variety of methods of abuse, but a common theme is a 'charitable' donation of an amount to the supporting organization, and a return of the donated amount to the donor, often in the form of a purported loan that may never be repaid."
For more fodder to the culture of corruption crowd, our former Governor and his family seem to be using this foundation as a tax scam. Although I don't know if they crossed from the grey into the black (criminal areas of tax law) it really adds to the evidence that former Governor and now Sec. Leavitt might have subscribed to an ethical paradigm of "as long as it is legal, it is ethical". This is another dismaying charge of corruption with the most prominent politician from Utah in the middle of it.
An interesting note in the story is of the few organizations that the Dixie & Anne Leavitt Foundation support one was the Western Association of Leavitt Families, which promotes genealogical research and religious activities for the descendants of the first Leavitts, who helped establish Utah as a Mormon state. Icing on the cake is Leavitt and his family's ability to take a deduction for doing personal genealogical research.
This case brings up the question how do I know who to give to? The best advice I can give is this, IRS approved charities have their tax returns open to public inspection and there are various websites devoted to giving information about US charities. I suggest researching out charities you are unfamiliar with before giving, and the safest thing you can do is to only give to well-known organizations.