The first mega donation, for €100 million ($113 million), was announced by luxury group Kering and the Pinault family. It was followed by €200 million ($226 million) from Bernard Arnault, the world’s third richest man, and his company, LVMH. That was matched hours later by the Bettencourt Meyers family, which controls L’Oreal.
The donations should go a long way to restoring Notre Dame. But they’ve also sparked a debate about wealth, taxes and the particular brand of philanthropy practiced by France’s richest families.
Attention shifted quickly this week from the generosity of the pledges to whether the donors would claim generous tax benefits available in France.
Under French law, individuals can deduct 66% of a charitable gift on their taxes, while businesses can claim back 60%.
For every corporate gift of €100 million ($112 million), that’s €60 million ($68 million) the state doesn’t receive in tax, explained Anne-Claire Pache, a professor who specializes in philanthropy at France’s ESSEC Business School.
Critics argue the donations meant to repair Notre Dame would be better spent on social programs to help the poor in a country where rising inequality has contributed to the outbreak of recent street protests.
“While Arnault and Pinault run a publicity campaign playing the donation race, we forget that the greatest part of these donations will be the responsibility of all the French people through tax cuts,” Julia Cagé, an economics professor at Sciences Po, said on Twitter.
The Pinault family, which controls luxury brands including Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, said Wednesday that it would not claim the tax deduction. Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior boss Arnault has suggested the same.
“Pettiness and jealousy” are outweighing the common good, Arnault said Thursday at a meeting of LVMH (LVMHF) shareholders. In other countries, the company would be congratulated, he added.
L’Oreal (LRLCF) declined to comment on whether the Bettencourt Meyers family would seek a deduction.
History of giving
Big donations to prestige projects in Europe have long been important to French luxury brands.