Charitable Organization Oversight: Rules v. Standards
Congress has traditionally utilized standards as a means of communicating charitable tax law in the Code. In the past fifteen years, however, Congress has increasingly turned to rules to stop fraud and abuse in the charitable sector. I review the rules versus standards debate to evaluate this trend. Are Congressional rules the best method for regulating the charitable sector? While the complex changing nature of charitable purpose would suggest standards are better, the inadequacy of IRS enforcement and the large number of unsophisticated charitable organizations both augur strongly in favor of rules. Congress, however, is not the ideal institution to implement rules for charitable purpose. The IRS is the better institution generally to institute rules there because of its informational advantage over Congress. Additionally, the IRS can implement rules in a more flexible rule format than can Congress. Still, Congress as a rulemaker makes sense in a few scenarios: (1) where it implements transparent procedural requirements; (2) where it regulates discrete behavior of charitable organization acts; and, (3) where it intends to remove a set of organizations from charitable status through simple rules.