Carpenter Morse Group
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|Question 19: Under what circumstances can a tax exempt organization be under common control with another entity?|
Answer: That is an outstanding question, to which the IRS does not have an answer. That is a shame, because the correct answer is fairly obvious, at least under the law as it stands today.
Under this rationale, the Code and Regulations requirements of ownership were replaced with the ability to appoint the Board. (GCM 39616, PLR 8702063.) This has been followed in subsequent rulings. (PLR 9722039 and 9629033.) An exempt organization that wishes to find itself under common control can doubtless follow these rulings secure in the knowledge that they will be found by the IRS to represent a reasonable, good-faith interpretation of the statute.
There is really only one problem with the rulings. In my opinion, these rulings are not, in fact, reasonable interpretations of 414(c). Why?
1. IRC 414(c) only applies to trades or businesses. It is questionable whether a tax-exempt organization as such or a governmental entity is a trade or business.
2. Perhaps more important, IRC §414(c) instructs the IRS to write regulations to define groups under common control on the same principles as controlled groups, which are clearly based on stock ownership. The IRS has done so, and done so well. Interlocking directorates are not the same as stock ownership, and the IRC §414(c) regulations are correct not to combine the two. For the Treasury to ignore its own regulations, and pull another statute out of the air to justify its rulings, is suspect.
Of course, it would be easy for the IRS to write regulations addressing this issue. They have the authority to do so under IRC 414(o). If the IRS wrote and finalized regulations under that section dealing with tax-exempt organizations, there would be no question at all of their validity.
In my view, it is a reasonable good-faith interpretation of the Code and Regulations as they now stand for a group of tax-exempt entities or governmental units, which are not a controlled group, to say that they are not under common control. Without ownership, there cannot be control under the IRC 414(c) regulations. Without trades or businesses, there is no group of trades or businesses under common control.
Since the IRS has said taxpayers can use any reasonable, good-faith interpretation until they give us guidance, organizations wishing to find they are under common control can use the reasoning of the private letter rulings cited earlier. Those who wish to be separate can use my reasoning above. Consider the following examples:
Church and Day School. A tax exempt church organizes a day school as a separate charitable trust. It provides the initial funding for the school. The church chooses the trustees of the school. Under the IRS private letter rulings, the church and the school would be under common control. Under my analysis they would not, because the church does not own the school and because it is uncertain whether the church is a trade or business.
Parental Control. Same facts as the prior example, except the church selects 3 of the 5 trustees and the remaining 2 trustees are elected by the parents who send their children to the school. The church does not control 80% of the trustees and so the IRS private letter rulings would not apply. If they wanted to argue that they were under common control, perhaps they could argue that the school's initial financing by the church would substitute for ownership of "value of outstanding shares."
City and Hospital. An incorporated city organizes a tax-exempt hospital. The city council chooses the directors of the hospital. Under the IRS private rulings the two would be under common control. However, since the IRS allows any reasonable, good faith interpretation of the law pending their formal guidance, the city could argue that they do not own the hospital and hence the two are not under common control.
There are circumstances where under any interpretation a tax-exempt organization might be part of a controlled group. For example:
Charity and Business. Mercy Hospital, Inc. an IRC 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation, owns 100% of the stock of High Price Clinic. It uses the profits from the clinic to finance its charitable services. The hospital and the clinic are a parent-subsidiary controlled group under IRC §414(b). A corporation does not need to have a trade or business in order to be part of a controlled group (although running a hospital probably would be treated as a business, whether it was done for a profit or not).
This material is drawm from Q12:9 of my book Who's the Employer?
Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.
The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.