What does Disneyland have to do with the estate tax and charitable giving?

posted on: August 31, 2010

Abigail Disney, renowned filmmaker and philanthropist, has a fantastic opinion piece in yesterday’s edition of USA Today about the importance of a robust estate tax. She talks about how her grandfather and grand uncle, the founders of the Walt Disney Company, suffered a tremendous loss when a successful cartoon character was usurped by its distributor. Determined not to be undermined again, her grandfather Roy registered a copyright on Mickey Mouse soon after. As she notes, “It was 1928, and it was neither the first nor the last time the Walt Disney Co. benefited from a federal system of protections, laws and taxes that created fertile ground for building a business empire.” Ms. Disney highlights how various elements of the federal system helped her family accumulate its wealth, “turning a quaint American company into a global brand.”

Ms Disney states clearly that not only was her grandfather able to build and bequeath significant amounts of wealth to three pursuant generations of his family “in a far stricter tax environment,” but also as a beneficiary of his largesse, “the estate tax is not as much of a bogeyman as you’ve been led to believe.” She does an incredible job of breaking down the facts and numbers in a clear and easy way for any reader to follow. Of the three clarifications she makes in correcting the rampant misinformation permeating the media waves (“death tax”) right now, perhaps the most important is her statement that “the estate tax incentivizes people like me to do good with our wealth because there is no estate tax on donations to charity.” In other words, a robust estate tax incentivizes charitable giving, the reason why NCRP is a signatory to the estate tax legislation principles developed by Americans for a Fair Estate tax.

Ms. Disney has a couple of really well-put statements about the estate tax’s positive impact on our nation in her piece. Some that resonated deeply with me were when she wrote about the connections among the estate tax, the common good, American values and ideals.

Kudos to Ms. Disney for having recently signed on to the Call to Preserve the Estate Tax organized by United for a Fair Economy. NCRP is proud to count the Daphne Foundation, of which Ms. Disney is a co-founder and CEO, among our members. The foundation supports programs that address the root causes and outcomes of poverty across New York and seeks out grassroots grantees, especially those that include their community members in developing long-term solutions to persistent problems. NCRP salutes Ms. Disney for her leadership and courage to speak out on this important issue and for her charitable work with Daphne and other social justice philanthropies.

Niki Jagpal is research and policy director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).