Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) who had some legendary and public battles with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in defense of nonprofits while a member of the Senate Finance Committee, will not seek reelection in 2014. “I will serve out my term, then it will be time to go home to Montana,” he wrote in a statement on his website.
Elected to the Senate in 1978, Baucus will complete his sixth term and 36th year of service as a senator next year. He joined Congress as a member of the House of Representatives in 1974.
The retirement comes as a surprise to some in the nonprofit sector who view his retirement as the loss of an advocate for charities. “I was surprised because just as recently as Friday he was emphasizing he was continuing, and he was fundraising over the weekend,” said Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector in Washington, D.C. ”He cares very deeply about nonprofits and the role they play.”
Though Baucus may be departing, the nonprofit sector still has advocates in Congress, said Aviv. “We expect that Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will chair the Senate Finance Committee if the senate remains in Democratic hands,” she said. “In a recent budget hearing, Sen. Wyden said the charitable deduction shouldn’t be considered a loophole but a lifeline. I think in Senator Wyden the sector has a friend, and he is well known as someone to work with Republicans.”
The 71-year old Baucus has been an advocate for the protection of the charitable tax deduction, philanthropy in rural states, and transparency in the sector. “Senator Baucus helped to push the carve out for the charitable deduction from the Senate’s Buffett Rule last year, sending a statement that the charitable deduction is different from all other deductions and is necessary for giving to thrive,” said Allison Hawkins, director of external affairs for the Philanthropy Roundtable in Washington, D.C. The Buffett Rule refers to higher taxation on households making more than $1 million per year, but wealthy donors would still be able to take a charitable deduction.
“He was instrumental in supporting philanthropy for more rural states,” said Liz Moore, executive director of the Montana Nonprofit Association in Helena, Mont. “He was very tuned in to the philanthropic divide and worked to get philanthropists to give attention to more rural states.” Moore said she was “surprised and delighted for him as a Montanan” upon hearing the news of his retirement, and said she hopes he can spend more time in his home state.
Leaders in the nonprofit sector respected Baucus not just for his advocacy on the sector’s behalf but also for being willing to reach across the aisle and work with his Republican colleagues. “We admire Senator Baucus as one of the voices of reason and bi-partisanship in a Congress not known much for either in recent years,” said Irv Katz, president and CEO of the National Human Services Assembly in Washington, D.C.
Katz said that Baucus kept a level head when it came to issues of transparency and accountability in the nonprofit sector. “I appreciated his reasonableness on the Senate Finance Committee when nonprofit accountability was in question,” said Katz. “For the abuses of a very few, the whole nonprofit sector was put on edge with little change as a result. Senator Baucus seemed to acknowledge this as he let the witch hunt wane as he took over leadership of the Committee.”
He still has work ahead of him. “If tax reform goes forward during this Congress, I think that Senator Baucus can be counted on as someone who will continue to ensure that the interests of the people who benefit from the work of charities will be at the forefront,” said Steve Taylor, senior vice president and counsel for United Way Worldwide in Alexandria, Va.