I’m a Tucson Arizona lawyer (business, real estate and probate law) and a Licensed Fiduciary (Personal Representative, Trustee and Guardian/Conservator). I also spend part of each day volunteering and helping raise money for good causes. At night I write!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

March on Washington + 50 Years

It’s hard not to choke up listening to clips from the “I Have a Dream” speech. So much promise, so much death during the 60s, and I cannot help but focus on the fact that the many 1960s martyrs had children, my age, and never got to see their kids grow up! As a product of a pretty stable two-parent household, I cannot imagine the challenges these families faced in turbulent times!

Emotions aside, I’m fascinated by how easily anyone can argue for a nearly full or almost empty cup. On the full side? Exhibit A is President Barack Obama. Elected, and re-elected—in not really very close election—despite a poor economy and many other problems! Yes, there are people among us who cannot deal with his being not like us. Some will ‘fess up, but that is the small, uninteresting bunch. I’m interested in how firmly so many deny any racism when their views reflect a level of discomfort with the president’s background. (“Don’t call me a racist, but can you prove the man was born in Hawaii,” for example, when no one questions where another candidate was born. Can you spell T-e-d C-r-u-z?) Racism is far less acceptable than it was 50 years ago. Not everywhere and not always, for sure, but the times have changed!

People of color vote! Barriers exist, and the fact that minorities vote provides no excuse for not worrying about the barriers. But minorities show up at polling places and they vote, and in many jurisdictions the effort to prevent minority voting has spurred greater voter turnout!

Generally, people can eat where they want, sleep where they want, travel as they choose, etc. Yes, there was a story about a restaurant asking a group of African Americans to leave because they made the other guests uncomfortable (Wild Wings Cafe), but that was news!!!

Empty? How about the vast number of black and Hispanic men in New York City (and other big cities) who are stopped and frisked for the crime of being … black or Hispanic? Imprisonment statistics—Prison Race Stats—reflect a race-biased justice system. And death penalty stats are really awful (Death Penalty Stats)!

Blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed in 2013, just as they were in 1963. Average black households have a net worth equal to about 10% of white households (Net Worth by Race).

Etc.! Being a person of color in these United States presents everyday challenges. For all of our “melting pot” noise, our culture does not like “different,” and it never has. Don’t believe me? Read up on the Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Hispanic immigrant experiences.

I suspect how people see the progress over the past 50 years depends, significantly, on their vantage point. I’ve never been stopped and frisked and probably never will be. If I was black, especially in a big city where people walk and use public transportation, I would almost surely have a different experience. (And yes, that would be the case even if I was an attorney!) On the other hand, people of color have many friends who, while they have not walked in the same shoes, take pride in the successes of the past 50 years, even as they do not always appreciate how far the arc must still bend before we live in a truly just society!

So, as we celebrate a milestone in our journey as a nation and a culture, I hope we can all:  take pride in the successes; know that much work remains to be done (and get to work); benefit from  appreciating the fact that our journeys always differ from those of our brothers and sisters.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Substantiating a Charitable Donation

If you are make charitable gifts, you must play by the rules, and what may seem like substantial compliance won't satisfy the Internal Revenue Service or the United States Tax Court. That's the lesson from In re Durden, T.C. Memo.2012-140 (May 17, 2012).

Here are the basic facts. In 2007 David and Veronda Durden gave the Nevertheless Community Church $24,854 in a series of checks, each of which was for more than $250. The church sent an acknowledgment letter that covered every check, and sent it before the the Durdens filed their 2007 federal income tax return. Unfortunately, the church forgot to mention in the letter that the Durdens received no goods or services in return for the contributions. When the IRS asked raised the concern during a routine audit in 2009, the Durdens promptly obtained a new letter from the church that seemed to meet the IRS concern. Alas, while the new letter contained the right language, it wasn't dated before the 2007 return was filed. No deduction, said the IRS, and "Durdens, you lose," said the Tax Court.

The relevant section of the Internal Revenue Code is 170(f)(8). Subparagraph (A) states:  "No deduction shall be allowed under subsection (a) for any contribution of $250 or more unless the taxpayer substantiates the contribution by a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution by the donee
organization that meets the requirements of subparagraph (B)." Subparagraph (B) must state the gift amount, whether the gift recipient gave goods or services in return for the gift and, if so, describe the goods or services and state their value."

The Tax Court only considered the first, contemporaneous letter. Since it lacked any statement concerning the goods or services issue, that issue is mentioned in subparagraph (B) and subparagraph (B) is incorporated into subparagraph (A), the deductions were not adequately documents and were thus disallowed. The Durdens lost the ability to deduct their donations and were assessed at least one penalty.

Key takeaways from the Durden case:

First, if you are a giver check your letters as you do your tax return preparation. If you haven't filed yet, you may still have time to get a corrected letter from the charity.

Second, if you are the charity, the short term problem is not yours, but consider how likely it is that you will retain a donor whose deduction is disallowed because your letter failed to include the right language.

Here are links to Durden and IRS Publication 526, which tells all about taking charitable deductions.

This post is intended to provide general information. Every situation is different, and by providing this information Mark Rubin provides no specific legal advice to anyone. For more information contact Mark Rubin at Mesch, Clark & Rothschild, P.C., 520.624.8886 or mrubin@mcrazlaw.com.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Kicking Kumbaya

Recently I met with a group from a nonprofit about funding their program. An issue arose about the focused nature of their efforts, and one of their board members--a fine fellow and a friend--quickly noted the fact that they don't "just sit around and sing Kumbaya." I took umbrage, right away, asking "what's wrong with that?"

Somewhere, somehow, Kumbaya became the whipping boy for people who are not really serious about what they're doing! In 2010 a nice little piece in the New York Time (A Long Road From Here to "Kumbaya") detailed the history of the song and how it gets denigrated now. Interesting, especially, is the fact that all sides in the world of "important" people doing "important" things use the song to distinguish themselves and their grown up, "important" work from the naive people who hold hands and sing songs.

Well ... every time I see a picture of Speaker John Boehner, surrounded by Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the boys, I think about children playing "grown-ups." Smug and self-satisfied, offering yet another set of proclamations or demands based on contempt for what their fellow travelers in the Bush II White House called "the reality-based community." (I also wonder, often, if Eric and the boys are there because they like to see themselves on television, or because one or more of them have shivs pressed against the Speaker's spine to remind him that his job depends on their mercy. Close call, and maybe the answer is "both reasons.") Adults doing important work? I think not.

Anyway, I totally appreciate the need for more than "feel good" experiences if accomplishments are the goal, and I know lots of groups can get lost in the weeds. That said, if the "weeds" are a campfire with decent people bonding with one another, or a class of people--mostly men--who think the people's business gets accomplished with pronouncements and the daily photo-opp behind the podium in the blue suit with the white shirt and the red tie and the flag pin and the slicked back hair and the shit-eating grin or the serious grimace, gimme the campfire and Kumbaya!

P.S. From all of the evidence I have seen to date, the group with which we met walks the talk! Nothing in this post is intended to put them--or my friend--down in any way.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Middle Class

Lately, we've heard plenty about the middle class, protecting the middle class, building the middle class, the evaporating middle class, etc. So who belongs in the middle class?

Income and wealth get very much blurred in our discourse. But for the lucky few whose wealth comes from those who came before them, wealth is a function of income. For those with investment assets, income is also a function of wealth. Both are, thus, important.

For 2011, the middle quintile of American households--households between the 40th and 60th percentiles-- had a mean (average) income of $49,842. Those households at the top end of the quintile earned $62,434. By way of comparison, $186,000 per year puts a household at the 95th percentile. (Those in the top 5% have an average household income of $311,444, a mean that includes the very few who earns tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per year.) Here's the link to the income data for 2000-2011:  2000-2011 US Household Income by Quintile.

Wealth statistics are harder to capture so neatly. Every bit of information, however, demonstrates that households in the middle--50th percentile--have almost no wealth, and that what wealth they do have correlates highly with the equity in their homes.  Table 721, reflecting 2007 (pre-crash) Census data shows a median net worth for all families of $120,000 and a mean net worth of $556,000. Here's the link:  Table 721. For a discussion about wealth issues, Professor G. William Domhoff's article, Who Rules America?, is worth a look-see! (Professor Domhoff is not without a position on wealth and its role in and on society, but he relies on plenty of authorities in advancing his views.)

In 2013, anyone can call him/herself anything, I suppose. That said, it seems fair to wonder how anyone whose household income greatly exceeds about $50,000 per year can fairly fall within the middle class! You may not feel wealthy if you earn $150,000 or more per year, or if your net worth exceeds $500,000 because you have a home with plenty of equity, but you are far from the middle, relative to your fellow Americans.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Romney and Bain-Some Thoughts

I've been watching the Romney/Bain Capital situation for a long while, wondering how it will play out. I've been convinced, since day one, that the story is not about Mitt Romney's wealth or envy or anything like that, but let me share a few words about that matter before I address what really matters.

Governor Romney was enormously successful as a financier. Good on him! I don't envy him and, frankly, am quite happy that my life does not involves the burdens attendant to making and having a financial fortune. My only quarrel about all that money relates to the several comments Governor Romney and his wife have shared about starting out with nothing, struggling, etc. For example, there's Ann Romney's comment that when she and her husband were in school those were not easy years, despite the fact that they lived on money invested by George Romney in his company, American Motors. Then there's Governor Romney's comment about being unemployed now, a statement that sits very poorly with people who don't work because there are no available jobs.

Governor Romney started out with a huge leg up in life. His affluent family exposed him to a lifestyle that prepared him for becoming successful. He got the best education money can buy, and the opportunity to develop networks that are only available to the chosen few who attend the most elite educational institutions in the world. Good for him that he used these opportunities to the max, but could there be in all of this just a touch of humility? Maybe a nod to the fact that being born in America, in these times, might have played some role in his success? Yes, he's a big success, but how would he have done if he was born African-American and poor, or if he was trying to get going in Peru or Niger. (Please forgive me if Governor Romney has been humble in public. If he has, his comments are surely not easy to fine!) As an aside on this issue, here are links--text and video--to Michael Lewis' Baccalaureate remarks at the 2012 Princeton University graduation. They're relevant:  http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S33/87/54K53/ and

Now, about the whole Bain thing. Governor Romney chose his message for the campaign. He could be telling voters he was a successful governor in Massachusetts, but he rarely mentions that part of his life. He could be focusing on his education, but he likes to slam Harvard. No, he asks us to pick him because he was a successful businessman. Well, fine! He invited inquiries into his career--maybe he thought he'd be able to just tell people he's a rich, successful businessman and leave it at that--and people have taken a peek.

When people found stuff about the business career that was not so popular, like outsourcing (or offshoring, which is what Governor Romney calls it), Governor Romney denied any involvement with the activities, claiming he was gone by then. Easily, Governor Romney could have defended his actions by reminding people that he answered to investors then, and that his actions were lawful, blah, blah, blah. Instead, however, he chose the "wasn't me" defense.

So why does this all matter. Well, I think we're in "it's not the act, it's the coverup" territory. Governor Romney dealt with residency issues in 2002, when he decided he wanted to become the Governor of Massachusetts and faced a residency challenge. His testimony suggested involvement with Bain between 1999 and 2002, and his words were offered to support his ties with Massachusetts.

Then there's the matter of the Securities and Exchange Commission filings, which identify Governor Romney, between 1999 and 2002, as the Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of the Board and sole shareholder of Bain. Documents that are filed with the SEC matter, a fact that should not be lost on a man who graduated from the Harvard Law School and the Harvard Business School, and who wants to be the boss of our country.

Finally, the reports I hear indicate that Governor Romney received wages between 1999 and 2002. If he did, did Bain deduct those payments as ordinary and reasonable business expenses. If so, and if no services were provided--the story we get today--that's an issue. (I know nothing about Bain's corporate structure, but if Bain was a corporation it could not lawfully pay an employee for services if no services were rendered.)

Romney supporters may find my nits unimportant. And in the grand scheme, they may not matter. Certainly false documents get filed all the time, and it looks like whatever may have been false was inaccurate and not false for some illegal purpose. For me, though, the nits say plenty about character. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) may have summed things up best the other day when he observed that "it's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally." Admittedly, Senator Graham was making a point, to wit:  the tax code is really complicated, and it should be made simpler. Fine, but do we really want our President to be just like us? Not me, thank you very much. I want him or her to be a leader in all ways. Can't we ask for conduct that rises above the minimum threshold set forth in the tax code? Can't we expect a really wealthy man who's been running for President for six years to give up some of the sketchy deductions? Is there anyone who would fault the man if he told the trustee of his blind trust--a man who is, by the way, one of his closest friends, and a man who, for reasons unknown, managed to invest in a fund run by one of the Romneys' sons--to get every fricking dollar invested onshore, right here in America? And can't we, finally, ask the man who wants to lead us to take responsibility for a company he clearly owned, whether or not he was there on a daily basis?

In conclusion, I am well aware of the fact that Governor Romney is the not the first guy whose investments have presented issues. (I'm buried in the four-volume Lyndon Johnson series by Robert Caro--second time around, and a fabulous bio--and Governor Romney looks like a saint compared to LBJ.) These are difficult times, however, and we have every right to expect the most from our leaders. As bad as the last five years have been, when we've been under the sway of Wall Streeters with their "anything goes" mentality, I fear it'll be much worse if we hand the keys to the country over to a man like Mitt Romney. 

Friday, June 22, 2012


Later this summer my daughter and I will be driving to school--her school, my and Jane's alma mater--for her sophomore year. It's daddy/daughter time, and my chance for the road trip I've always wanted but never taken the time for!
Our route takes us from Tucson to the Grand Canyon and, then, to Winslow AZ. In Winslow we'll be eating at the Turquoise Room at La Posada Hotel. We'll also take a moment to "take it easy, standin' on a corner in Winslow Arizona," although I'm sure there will be no girl "in a flatbed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me." (BTW, bricks can be purchased for placement at Second and Kinsley in Winslow. We'll be looking for ours when we get there.)
The next morning we'll drive from Winslow to Pueblo CO, by way of Albuquerque and Santa Fe NM. No specific eating or sleeping plans.
Day three has us driving to the Mr. Rushmore SD area. Again, no specific plans.
Day four will find us looking at the Presidents and, then, traveling east to Sioux Falls SD. No plans, and maybe you are detecting a theme. Stay tuned!!!
Day five should be easy. Sioux Falls to Minneapolis MN, where my little sister lives. No plans, but no need for plans either. I'll be eating Walleye, and nothing else is set. (In fact, I'm not sure I've told my sister we're coming.)
Day six of the "out" part of the trip is really short. We drive from Minneapolis to Rockford IL, where my other sister lives.
Days seven and eight have us buying stuff and getting Cate settled in. Lots of heavy lifting, I'm sure. Think about every movie you've seen, where the student arrives and the goofy dad stumbles around under a load of boxes; I be him!
Monday morning--day nine--starts the solo journey. I will have five-six days to drive a minimum of 1692.88 miles, door to door. I plan to drive more southerly, but am very flexible.
So ... about the stay tuned! Cate's program involves photos--she's a very fine photographer--and I want to find safe, clean beds at night, good food all day and a very dry, very cold martini at the end of the day. I have lots of web-based blogs about eating, but we're not hitting culinary hot spots (other than the Turquoise Room on our first night out), and I haven't found especially great sources for places to see, spots to avoid, etc. So, my friends, I'd really appreciate any suggestions, recommendations, insights, etc. If our plans are bad in some respect or another, please offer a better idea, as we are committed to nothing other than getting to Rockford in no more than seven days, passing through Minneapolis and, pretty certainly, seeing the Grand Canyon. (I moved to Arizona at age four and was first at the Grand Canyon on my honeymoon at age 30. Cate, a native Arizonan, has never been.)
Thanks in advance.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

Our daughter Cate matriculated at Beloit College, a fine, small liberal arts college in Beloit, Wisconsin. Beloit--the town, and the college within it--is located along the Wisconsin/Illinois border about 95 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. That Cate enrolled at Beloit College is totally fitting, as she would not be alive if Jane and I had not both been Beloit College students who happened to meet in the fall of 1977, as I was wrapping up my 3-1/2 years at Beloit and Jane was starting hers. (It did take us almost nine years to connect up for real, but that's another story!)

Beloit was not my home or Jane's before we arrived there. I was Tucson-raised, while Jane was born in Tennessee and attended high school in Virginia. Nevertheless, college provides a home for students, especially those who "go away." For me, for the better part of four years, Beloit was home. I did my laundry (when I did it at all) at a laundromat on Portland Ave. I drank my cocktails at the Golden Cove, where we all tried to see if we could leave, after paying, without Ben the bartender/owner saying goodbye. (We always failed; he was simply too observant!) I did my chilling outside in the winter, and when I say "chilling" I mean the cold kind. In the summer I helped fill with water and drop from a dorm roof the empty plastic bags that used to contain the milk you'd serve yourself from the stainless steel boxes. (We called the "droppings" unit displays, and for the "why" on that one you'd have to contact a  Basic Elmo! Never mind, as before you know it you'll be all into dropping toilets from fire escapes, etc.) I did my picketing--grapes were definitely NOT IN in the mid-1970s--in front of Salamone's, one of the local grocery stores.) And I ate my pizza at a small place that shall go nameless, down the street from Salamone's. Great pies with a very puffy crust. Eight slices, which always created an issue with three of us sharing. And so on. Yes, "so on" does include attending classes, learning stuff, making friends, etc.

I'd been back to Beloit a few times since 1977. I've also "kept up" over the years. I was my class agent, signing lots of letters, wondering why the class of 1978 gives markedly less than the classes of 1977 and 1979, and almost all of the other classes, too. (I also always listened politely to the fund development person explain why a generational shift that caught those people born mostly between late 1955 and 1956 caused a level of thriftiness not seen before or after, all the while knowing the lack of giving involved the identity of the asker.) I attended some reunions, and popped over to the campus once or twice while I was visiting my sister, who lives about 15 miles south of Beloit. Nevertheless, I missed plenty. (More accurately, plenty has occurred in the six or so years since we last visited.)

An amazing new science building sits on what used to be "the back way" down to the dirty, smelly river, which is not dirty or smelly any longer. The student union is located in a building that was closed and locked when we attended and the old student union barely makes the map. (Ask someone about the Smith Building and when it stopped being the union and you get dumb stares.) Athletic facilities are new, newer and in one instance not yet finished. (No reason, any longer, for the coin toss winner in football games to consider avoiding having to run uphill in the second half, as the field is now flat.)

When I arrived in Chicago in 1974 Mayor Richard J. Daley was the mayor. A bus met arriving Beloit students at O'Hare (which Mayor Daley called O'Hara). When we last visited in 2005, the Mayor was Richard M. Daley. (I don't know what he called the airport.) The mayor thing is significant because, in Chicago, signage identifying the mayor was always a big deal, although Mayor Rahm Emanuel must be preoccupied with the deficits Richie Daley left for him, as the signs have not been repainted.

The first day at Beloit College for me did not include my parents, who stayed behind in Tucson. Frankly, if anyone's parents showed up, the event has been lost to the ages. That said, I can't imagine anyone being uncool enough to let his/her parents be seen in 1974.

Now, there are parental events, just for the 'rents. Had we stayed home, our daughter would have likely been branded as "unwanted" or worse. The attending 'rents all look younger than our parents looked when we started college although our parents were almost a decade and a half younger than Jane and I are now.

As for Beloit the town, there is the clean river. Salamone's is long gone, and downtown has a store called Bushel & Peck's, a grocery store and cafe that sells locally grown organic produce. (The only thing worth picketing now is Governor Walker and, as for him, one hopes the recall election will soon turn him into a bad memory!) And, alas, the pizza joint must have new owners, because the crusts taste like cardboard and the pizza maker must have graduated from the "more cheese is always better" school!

What you have read so far was written in August 2011, days after Cate started her first semester. Now, with the chance for this piece to sit idly--and for Cate to be anything but idle--for the last eight months or so, I am delighted about how Cate is progressing and amazed by the pace of a full life. I also wish I could be a college freshman today!!! Alas, the title says it all ... !