Help Congress take aim at a loophole

Lori Lovely

The Humane Society of the U.S. recently investigated "canned" hunts, enterprises that charge hunters for guaranteed kills of big-gme animals bred for the purpose of being easily cornered on enclosed acreage.

When Congress reconvened Jan. 31, their agenda included the continuation of a debate over a proposed tax bill that would close a loophole allowing hunters to deduct the cost of going on safari. The loophole currently permits hunters to donate trophies with inflated appraisal value to questionable museums that frequently are nothing more than a hunter's personal den or storage shed. The proposal makes no judgment on the ethics of hunting.

As Matthew Scully pointed out in his 2002 book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, hunting groups such as the Safari Club International encourage hunters to take advantage of the tax code through seminars like "SCI, the IRS and You," where they teach hunters that by naming a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity as a beneficiary of your estate, you can write off charitable donations "for years to come, under a device in the tax code known as a charitable remainder trust." Similarly, Chicago Appraisers Association promotional brochures include a "Hunt for Free" guide, featuring "the seven secrets of tax-deductible hunting," with suggestions about which "extra" animals to take for tax donations/savings, and a written guarantee of museum acceptance and tax deductions.

Scully challenged the Internal Revenue Service to "set forth on a little safari of its own" to look into the fraudulent situation. Whether or not in response to Scully's challenge, the IRS did begin tracking the scam, particularly after the Humane Society of the U.S. (the nation's largest animal protection group) uncovered further information during its two-year undercover investigation into "canned" hunts, enterprises that charge hunters for guaranteed kills of big-game animals bred for the purpose of being easily cornered on enclosed acreage. The investigators found tax abuse involving donated trophies, and tracked the scheme to overseas safaris, uncovering rampant circumvention of U.S. laws preventing the importation of endangered species.

Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the HSUS, attributes the rise in trophy tax fraud to "hunting madness" and "trophy madness" brought about by competition to get into the record books. "Hunters will go to extremes, even cheating on their taxes," he says. It's estimated this scheme costs the U.S. Treasury about $40 million a year in unpaid taxes.

Last year, Congress closed loopholes on gifting junk cars, but the HSUS is urging Congress to end the egregious abuse of the tax system to fund hunting vacations, leaving taxpayers with the tab for the killing of exotic animals, often in canned hunts. Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Finance Committee, drafted a tax bill that would limit the amount of charitable contribution that could be deducted to the market value of the specimen, rather than the replacement value. To prove fair market value, examples of recent sales would be required. For taxidermy deductions over $5,000, the Internal Revenue Service would supply its own appraisal. The new provisions would also make it more difficult for museums to accept hundreds of donations they have no intention of keeping and displaying to the public. "It looks like it's time for these self-enriching hunters to become the hunted ... " Grassley said. "We need to take the tax cheating out of taxidermy."

The Senate passed the amendment to the federal tax relief bill last November, but a House bill didn't include the same language. It comes before Congress again this session. To encourage Congress members to support the bill, the HSUS is reaching out to its 700,000 constituents and the general public by sponsoring a petition voicing their support. Markarian says HSUS will take the petition to a congressional committee looking into the issue.

Markarian says the issue has broad appeal because it affects all taxpayers, but says that animal rights activists, biologists and even hunters support the measure because "this practice goes beyond the pale." But supporters of the bill fight a powerful opponent. The interests of big-game hunters are actively promoted in Washington by the politically powerful SCI.

There's still time to join the growing number of citizens in support of a tax bill to end trophy hunting tax fraud. The petition can be found at The HSUS also invites citizens to contact their Congressional representatives to voice their opinion about the trophy tax scam and canned hunts. A list of Congress members, their district and contact information is provided. Help stop the hunting trophy tax scam.


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