Thursday, December 3, 2015

Billions and Billions

I am not sure when I evoke the word billions  I am thinking of Star Trek, Carl Sagan/Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Dr. Evil who evoked the phrase "one million dollars" not realizing that since his initial freeze that a million just doesn't go as far these days.

But the "pledge" of Mark Zuckerberg and his wife (she has a name but do people care really?) upon the birth of their daughter was to give their billions away in their lifetime to better the world for their precious snowflake who is now set to inheirit billions regardless if Mummy and Daddy do give away the rest.  So big deal as many have come to think.

No, not really.  I have long said the new "venture" philanthropist is about control, investment and of course return on said investment.  This is not about giving but about giving with strings attached.

Mr. Zuckerberg already made that mistake once with the Newark Schools and that debacle burns anyone from doing so again. But he did again and to the area schools in which he lives and as of yet there seems to be no burnout there.

But about this new donation to the world. Well it is loaded with strings. It is an LLC, a limited liability company registered in America's tax haven - Delaware. 

And as the article below discusses the reality of these type of philanthropic businesses is that they are not as confined to the tax codes that dictate rules of governance and requirements of giving. And the best part is that the Zuckerbergs can still found a non profit foundation, like the Gates', and in turn donate to themselves and get the tax credit there, then in turn meet the tax codes demands and fulfill those while getting a second lap around the tax pool.  It is a win win for well the Zuckerbergs.

My god just help people and shut up about it. Like the anonymous donor (a woman) whom donated 10K to a Salvation Army Kettle.    or to contrast with the equivalent of someone with fame and wealth, Taylor Swift, and her idea of what is philanthropy.   Either or they are about giving.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Philanthropy Uses L.L.C. for More Control

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the organization that the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, introduced this week, has three important letters at the end of its name: L.L.C.

L.L.C. stands for limited liability company, which is a specific type of business structure. The use of such an entity, revealed on Tuesday when the couple said they intended to give away 99 percent of their shares in Facebook during their lifetimes, shines a spotlight on an atypical but increasingly popular financial vehicle in philanthropy
Traditionally, philanthropists have set up nonprofits to make charitable donations. Under the federal tax code, charities and foundations are required to spend a minimum of 5 percent of the value of their endowment every year for charitable purposes. There is also a nonprofit tax designation for advocacy groups, like the Sierra Club or the American Civil Liberties Union.

But a limited liability company is a structure that acts partly like a corporation and partly like a business partnership. The structure can provide benefits, and specifically one important advantage to the young billionaires: more control. (Some of them are giving away money earlier in their careers compared with benefactors of past eras — like the Rockefellers and Andrew Carnegie, who largely began their philanthropy closer to the ends of their lives.)

The L.L.C. structure gives Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan more flexibility in investing in for-profit social enterprises and also supporting political causes, allowing them a freer hand. That is because an L.L.C. has fewer rules than a traditional foundation, such as the 5 percent requirement.
An L.L.C. also does not necessitate the same kinds of disclosures of public tax documents, and the couple can choose to disburse any profit from the L.L.C. however they wish. In all those ways, the L.L.C. acts more like a private investment vehicle for the couple.

In addition, there are some legal and tax benefits. If the L.L.C. is sued, the couple’s personal assets are exempt from consideration. Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan will also not face additional tax burdens with an L.L.C., but instead are taxed as individuals on any gains the L.L.C. sees.

“It’s buying optionality, so that down the road they could still decide to direct money to nonprofits or they could choose to invest in really cool solar energy companies that are doing a lot of good,” said Jacob Harold, the chief executive of GuideStar, a national database about nonprofits. “It will enable the creative and flexible use of capital over time.”

Mr. Zuckerberg, 31, and Dr. Chan, 30, registered the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative L.L.C. in Delaware last week, according to a filing. The couple, who announced the initiative in the form of a letter to their newborn daughter, Maxima Chan Zuckerberg, has estimated that their current Facebook holdings are worth more than $45 billion.

In a statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said, “As Mark and Priscilla have made clear, they believe the mission is best advanced by a combination of activities, including funding nonprofit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates.”

While many tech billionaires like the Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have adopted a typical nonprofit structure — known as a 501(c)(3) — for their foundations, L.L.C.s are increasingly taking root among other Silicon Valley donors.

Pierre Omidyar, an eBay co-founder, has set up the Omidyar Network, which has taken a hybrid approach by operating as both an L.L.C. and a nonprofit structure. Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, the former chief executive of Apple, has formed the Emerson Collective, an L.L.C. dedicated to supporting issues on “education, immigration and innovation.”

Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan may now popularize the L.L.C. form even further.

“If I was Zuckerberg or one of his friends, and I was giving away multiple billions of dollars, I don’t know what’s going to be important hundreds of years from now,” said Scott A. Bishop, director of financial planning at STA Wealth Management. “In the long run, an L.L.C. is best for that type of flexibility.”

In adopting an L.L.C. approach, Mr. Zuckerberg is breaking from one of his childhood heroes, the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who set up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and who now works on issues such as climate change and eradicating malaria. Mr. Gates’s group in 2006 created a hybrid trust and foundation structure, but is not set up as an L.L.C.

Emmett D. Carson, the chief executive of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a charitable organization with $7 billion in assets under management, said tech philanthropists were turning to a variety of novel giving tools including L.L.C.s, donor-advised funds and for-profit businesses with charitable arms. That is because they are accustomed to developing or embracing new tools to disrupt the status quo, he said.

“We are at the cusp of a new renaissance in philanthropy, where younger donors in the tech industry are making commitments at a much younger age and are prepared to make much larger commitments,” Mr. Carson said. “They are using various hybrid tools to carry out that philanthropy here at home, but also around the world.”

There are drawbacks to L.L.C.s, too. Unlike with a traditional nonprofit, an L.L.C. doesn’t allow for a large tax deduction when you initially put money in; a tax break takes effect only when money is donated to charities or foundations.

In the couple’s giving announcement, Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan said they planned to tackle some of the biggest problems their daughter’s generation might face, including heart disease and cancer, and suggested they would finance research and technologies to address underlying causes of these diseases. They pledged to give away $1 billion a year for the next three years.

“Medicine has only been a real science for less than 100 years, and we’ve already seen complete cures for some diseases and good progress for others,” the couple wrote in the letter on Facebook. “As technology accelerates, we have a real shot at preventing, curing or managing all or most of the rest in the next 100 years.”

And this from Baseline Scenario that explains the S in the B in this "donation"

Mark Zuckerberg’s $45 Billion Loophole

Much of the Internet is giddy over Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s “pledge” to give “99%” of their Facebook stock to “charity.” Bill and Melinda Gates said, “The example you’re setting today is an inspiration to us and the world.” Unfortunately, it’s not a very good example.
Since the last gilded age, the super-rich have generally given to charitable organizations or to their own charitable foundations. That’s why we have the University of Chicago, Carnegie Hall, and the Getty Center, to name a few. Today’s new class of gazillionaires has largely followed in their footsteps: Gates created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Stephen Schwarzman gave $150 million to Yale, John Paulson gave $100 million to Central Park, and so on.
Well, Mark Zuckerberg has found a different way.
Instead, he’s creating an LLC that he owns (the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative), giving his stock to the LLC, and telling us all that the LLC will do wonderful things for the world.
Quick primer: A limited liability company is just a type of business organization, like a partnership or a corporation. It has owners, who control it, either directly or through managers whom they appoint. It can do anything that any other profit-seeking business can do. It doesn’t pay taxes; instead, its profits, losses, or deductions simply get transferred to its owners’ tax returns. Its primary advantage is that it is extremely flexible: you can design an LLC more or less any way you want.
So let’s say Zuckerberg and Chan give 99% of their stock to their LLC. What does that really mean?
First off, “give” is the wrong word to use in this context. That implies that the money is irrevocably going from them to something else.
In this case, they are investing in their own company. Because it’s an LLC, they still have complete control of the money.
That means they can, among other things:
  • Write checks from the LLC to themselves as its owners, pay themselves salaries for running the LLC, borrow money from the LLC, borrow money personally using LLC shares as collateral, sell some of their shares in the LLC to other people, or take cash right back out in many other ways.
  • Use the LLC to buy houses they live in, offices that they work in, etc..
  • Invest in profit-making companies.
  • Contribute to political campaigns or super PACs, engage in direct political activity, or lobby legislators.
  • Pay for his own political campaigns, if he so chooses.
  • Give money to charitable foundations or operating 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
Essentially, Zuckerberg can do everything with the LLC’s money that he can do with his own money. So on the most substantive level, he hasn’t done anything except announce some vague intentions. The “99%” claim made a lot of headlines, but there’s a lot less there than meets the eye. A lot of things that other billionaires do with their own money—like invest in other companies—Zuckerberg can now do with the LLC’s money. The only thing he seems to be saying is that he and his family will restrict their personal consumption to 1% of his fortune (about $450 million), but even that is not entirely clear. He certainly retains the ability to take money back out whenever he wants, and the LLC will almost certainly do some things that really are personal consumption (like political contributions). In addition, whenever the LLC makes a contribution to a real charity, the associated tax deduction will flow back up to Zuckerberg and Chan. So to the extent that they have to sell stock to pay for their consumption, they will never pay tax on those sales. (Put another way, their remaining $450 million, as well as any money they make in the future, is now all after-tax money.)
Is this really so bad, though? I mean, he says he will use the LLC to make the world a better place.
But compare what he’s doing to what past tycoons, up to and including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have done. They donated directly to charitable organizations or to charitable foundations. There are a lot of criticisms you can make of the current “charity” system that exists because of the tax deduction for contributions: a lot of recipient organizations do little good for society, some do harm (like the NRA’s 501(c)(3)), and the tax deduction directs money from productive investments to mega-rich institutions like Harvard University. But Gates and his predecessors at least agreed to play by certain rules: not to take the money back if they changed their minds, not to use it to further increase their wealth, not to use it influence the political system (although that rule has some loopholes), and so on. The idea was that if you became a multi-billionaire, you would relinquish some of your control over a large chunk of your wealth and irrevocably dedicate it to attempting to improve society, according to rules that society has agreed on. That’s what the Giving Pledge was all about.
Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want to play by the rules. He thinks he can do a better job. Maybe he can, although I don’t have any reason to believe that’s true. This is the next step in the privatization of philanthropy. No more Giving Pledge. Instead, we’ll have the Keeping Pledge:
I pledge to keep all of my wealth and use a lot of it to make the world better place, as long as I get to define “a lot” and “better.”
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first person to make the Keeping Pledge. The Koch brothers already did: they’ve given away lots of money to charity, but they’re keeping even more to spend on politics, because they believe that that’s the most effective way to make the world a better place (as they see it).
Zuckerberg’s LLC’s investments may end up having as much positive impact on the world as the Gates Foundation’s (although I’m not sure how high a bar that is to begin with). Most likely we’ll never be able to evaluate it in any kind of definitive way. But it is certain to have a different impact in the short term. Other super-rich people will feel no pressure to sign onto the Giving Pledge or donate their money to the traditional charity system. Instead, they will create their own LLCs, maintain complete control over their money, and spend it on their own pet projects and political issues. That’s not a good thing.

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