Evangelist’s generous tips and gifts not deductible

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The Tax Court has held that the generous tips and gifts that a Catholic evangelist considered to be part of his efforts to spread the gospel were not deductible charitable contributions.

Robert Oliveri, who served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 26 years, frequently attended church-related meetings, participated in community-outreach efforts, and assisted various church officials. He retired from the Air Force in 1986, and the following year he took a 16-week Catholic evangelization trainers program offered by Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic university in Ohio.

Since that time he dedicated his life to being an evangelist, seeking to spread the teachings of the Catholic Church through random interactions with members of the general public. He considered all of his contact with members of the public to be opportunities for evangelism.

He co-founded Brothers and Sisters of the Divine Mercy (BSDM), a 501(c)(3) organization, in 1987. On his 2012 tax return, he listed as charitable deductions to the organization nearly $40,000, including a wide variety of expenses These included extremely generous tips to waiters, gifts to individuals, plane rentals, and cable service for TV and internet.

In denying the deductions, the Tax Court noted that Oviveri’s activities were not coordinated with the Catholic Church or BSDM to treat the expenses as “to or for the use of” either organization. Some of the expenses, such as a newspaper subscription, were nondeductible personal expenses. A number were over $250 and no contemporaneous written acknowledgment was provided, as required by Reg. section 1.170A-13(f)(10).

Oliveri contended that the Service’s three audits of his federal tax returns over a 10-year period resulted in “excessive Government entanglement with his exercise of religion.”

“We disagree. We do not look behind a notice of deficiency to examine the Commissioner’s motives or the administrative policy or procedure involved in making the determination without credible evidence of unconstitutional conduct by the Commissioner,” the court stated. “[Oliveri] has not provided a basis for us to conclude that the Commissioner unconstitutionally discriminated against his religious beliefs.”

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