June 14,2004

Grassley on the Smithsonian's Response on In-kind Donations


To: Reporters and Editors
Fr: Jill Gerber, for Chairman Grassley, 202/224-6522
Re: Smithsonian response on in-kind donations
Da: Monday, June 14, 2004

The following comment is from Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee onFinance, on the Smithsonian Institution’s response to his request for documentation and informationabout the agency’s handling of in-kind donations such four Stradivari musical instruments – twoviolins, a viola, and a cello. Several observers believe the donor, Herbert Axelrod, may havesignificantly inflated the instruments’ value to claim a much bigger tax break than he deserved, andthat the Smithsonian may have done little to help prevent that.

“The letter raises more questions than it answers. Specifically, I intend to ask theSmithsonian for more details about the Axelrod donation and about charitable gifts in general. Forexample, the Smithsonian’s response is unclear on whether the agency keeps information and detailson non-cash donations in general. Specific to the Axelrod donation, I want to understand why theSmithsonian refers to values of these instruments that are all over the map. The Smithsonian usesfigures of $20 million, $30 million, and $55 million, all in a three-month time frame.

“The Smithsonian’s statement that no one signed a Form 8283 for the Axelrod donation istroubling. A donor has to file such a form with the IRS to claim a deduction for the donation. Thisraises the question of Mr. Axelrod’s interaction with the IRS on this issue. I plan to review thismatter with the IRS.

“I’m convening a hearing on June 22 to examine problems generally surrounding in-kinddonations, as well as charitable governance and best practices. It’s important for Congress tounderstand when and how much taxpayers are footing the bill for overvalued deductions for in-kinddonations.”

The Smithsonian Institution’s response, without the lengthy attachments, is attached.