12.16.20

Daines, Stabenow, Grassley, Wyden Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to End Abuse of Conservation Easements

Bill protects program that promotes conservation, stops scam artists from ripping off American taxpayers

U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reintroduced a bipartisan bill, the “Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act,” to stop the abuse of conservation easements, save taxpayers billions of dollars and promote conservation in the U.S.

“Our bipartisan bill will promote conservation in Montana, save taxpayers billions of dollars and stop scam artists from abusing a critical conservation program used across the country,” Daines said. “This will help protect Montana farmers and ranchers who want to conserve our lands, and hold individuals accountable who are looking to game the system and pad their own wallets. It's time to pass this commonsense bipartisan bill.”

“Our bill preserves the integrity of the conservation easement program which plays an important role in protecting family farms, open land, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities across Michigan and our country. Republicans and Democrats came together to end this abuse and save taxpayer money,” Stabenow said.

“The conservation easement program is an important tool for protecting and preserving our environment. But bad-faith scammers have taken advantage of the program through abusive schemes at the expense of American taxpayer. I investigated the growing number of these scams, and it's clear that they won't stop without legislative action. I’m glad to join Sen. Daines once again in introducing legislation that would stop these scams from undermining the good work of farmers, ranchers and conservationists,” Grassley said.

“Abuse of syndicated conservation easements by some bad actors is one of the most egregious tax shelters out there. Our bill would ensure IRS has the tools to crack down on these transactions. IRS has been battling these scams for years, and our bipartisan Finance Committee report exposed their fraudulent nature in detail. There’s broad, bipartisan agreement on our bill, and Congress should pass it before we adjourn,” Wyden said.

Despite increased enforcement from the IRS, recent IRS data shows the total amount of deductions claimed through these tax shelters increased from $6.8 billion in 2017 to $9.2 billion in 2018.

The “Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act,” which tracks an IRS Listing Notice published in December 2016, would generally disallow a charitable deduction if it exceeds 2.5 times (250%) of a partner’s original investment. The updated bill includes language concerning historic preservation deals, which are often more complicated and subject to greater oversight. The bill preserves this deduction for people with true charity and conservation in mind, including for family farms and ranches.

To read the bill text, click HERE.

Organizations that support this bipartisan legislation include: the Land Trust Alliance, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, The Appraisal Institute, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Partnership of Rangeland Trusts, Trust for Public Land, Pheasants Forever, and Quail Forever.

Background:  

In late August, Daines renewed efforts to advance his bipartisan bill following the conclusion of a U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigation into abusive syndicated conservation easements. This updated legislation is the product of months of discussions with the Joint Committee on Taxation and stakeholders on how to ensure that the bill closes all loopholes that fraudsters might find to get around the new requirements.

On August 25th, 2020, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Ron Wyden of Oregon released a bipartisan report on their 16-month investigation into the abuse of syndicated conservation-easement transactions. 

On June 30th, 2020, Daines asked IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig about the importance of passing his bipartisan “Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act” in a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing.

On January 17th, 2019, Daines introduced the bipartisan “Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2019,” a bill that would curb abuses of the popular conservation easement tax benefit while allowing it to continue to serve as an important tool for conserving land and protecting family farms and ranches.