Wall Street Journal Supports Abusive Conservation Tax Shelters

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal expressed its support for what it calls “abusive conservation tax shelters.” The article begins by discussing a mistake made by the IRS in the case of Lakepoint Land II LLC, highlighting the criticism the agency received for the error. Although the editorial acknowledges the extent of the IRS’s error, it questions whether the situation can be classified as fraud. The piece also focuses on the IRS’s efforts to combat syndicated conservation easements, which have become a profitable industry. The editorial argues that these transactions, although disliked by environmental advocates and some lawmakers, are legal. However, a letter to the editor from John Schoenecker challenges this notion, asserting that syndicated conservation-easement transactions involve inflated appraisals and are not legal tax shelters. Schoenecker, a participant in a Senate investigation, discovered that these transactions enable taxpayers to obtain tax deductions without facing any economic risks. He commends the IRS for pursuing syndicated conservation-easement transactions. Notably, The Wall Street Journal has covered the story on its news side but has not reported on recent convictions of easement promoters or the acquittal of an appraiser.

Wall Street Journal Supports Abusive Conservation Tax Shelters

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Wall Street Journal Supports Abusive Conservation Tax Shelters


In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal expressed support for abusive conservation tax shelters. The article discusses various aspects of this issue, including IRS mistakes, uncertainty surrounding fraudulent activity, IRS efforts against syndicated conservation easements, controversy surrounding conservation-easement transactions, the view of John Schoenecker, findings from a Senate investigation, and a discrepancy in the coverage by The Wall Street Journal.

Background Information

To understand the issue of abusive conservation tax shelters, it is important to have a clear understanding of conservation tax shelters themselves. Conservation tax shelters offer financial incentives to individuals who participate in conservation-easement transactions, which involve the donation or sale of a conservation easement on a property. These transactions have gained popularity in recent years and have become a lucrative business.

IRS Screwup Regarding Penalty Form

One notable case that highlights the complexities of conservation tax shelters is the Lakepoint Land II LLC case. In this case, the IRS made a mistake regarding a penalty form, which has raised concerns about the accuracy and effectiveness of the IRS’s enforcement efforts. The IRS deserves criticism for this mistake, but it is unclear whether this situation rises to the level of fraud.

Uncertainty Regarding Fraudulent Activity

There is ongoing debate about the extent of fraudulent activity in syndicated conservation easements. Various factors influence the determination of fraud, including the methods used to calculate tax deductions and the accuracy of appraisals. Experts have differing opinions on this matter, highlighting the need for clear definitions and guidelines to address fraudulent activity effectively.

IRS Efforts Against Syndicated Conservation Easements

The IRS has been taking actions and conducting investigations against syndicated conservation easements. These easements involve multiple investors pooling their resources to purchase and donate or sell conservation easements. The objective of the IRS’s measures is to curb abusive practices and ensure compliance with tax regulations. However, these efforts have had an impact on the conservation-easement market and have sparked arguments from both supporters and opponents of syndicated conservation easements.

Controversy Surrounding Conservation-Easement Transactions

Conservation-easement transactions have faced controversy due to concerns about their legal standing and opposition from the green lobby and lawmakers. Critics argue that these transactions can be abused as tax shelters and highlight the challenges to accurately appraising the value of conservation easements. The legal and ethical concerns surrounding conservation-easement transactions have sparked debates and calls for stricter regulations.

John Schoenecker’s View

John Schoenecker, who led a Senate investigation into syndicated conservation-easement transactions, has a different perspective on this issue. In a letter to the editor, Schoenecker argues that these transactions are not legal tax shelters and involve inflated appraisals. He maintains that syndicated conservation easements allow taxpayers to buy tax deductions without assuming any economic risk. Schoenecker supports the IRS’s actions against these transactions, emphasizing the need to address issues of abuse and maintain the integrity of the tax system.

Senate Investigation Findings

The Senate investigation conducted by Schoenecker delved into various aspects of syndicated conservation-easement transactions. The investigation aimed to uncover the truth, evaluate the impact of these transactions, and make informed recommendations. The findings and conclusions of this investigation have had significant implications for public perception, as they shed light on the potential legal and ethical concerns associated with syndicated conservation-easement transactions.

Coverage Discrepancy by Wall Street Journal

While The Wall Street Journal has covered the syndicated conservation easement story on its news side, there appears to be a discrepancy in the recent coverage. The editorial highlights the IRS’s efforts against these transactions but fails to mention the recent conviction of easement promoters and the acquittal of an appraiser involved in these transactions. This absence raises questions about the comprehensiveness and fairness of the coverage provided by The Wall Street Journal.


Introduction to the Issue

The issue of abusive conservation tax shelters has sparked considerable debate and controversy. These tax shelters have gained attention due to their financial incentives and growing popularity in syndicated conservation-easement transactions. However, there are concerns about the potential for fraud and the legal standing of these transactions.

Importance of Tax Shelters

Tax shelters play a significant role in the financial landscape by offering individuals opportunities for tax planning and savings. However, the abuse of tax shelters can have negative consequences, leading to revenue loss and undermining the credibility of the tax system. Therefore, it is crucial to evaluate the implications of abusive conservation tax shelters and ensure appropriate regulation.

Need for Evaluation

Given the complexities and controversies surrounding abusive conservation tax shelters, it is important to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. This evaluation should consider the relevant factors, such as IRS enforcement efforts, potential fraud, legal concerns, and the perspectives of various stakeholders. Only through a thorough evaluation can informed decisions be made regarding the regulation and future of conservation tax shelters.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterjreilly/2023/10/13/wall-street-journal-supports-abusive-conservation-tax-shelters/

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