Smoke rises in front of the altar cross at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, after a fire engulfed the building. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke rises in front of the altar cross at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, after a fire engulfed the building. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)
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The steeple of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral collapses as the cathedral is engulfed in flames in central Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
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The steeple of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral collapses as the cathedral is engulfed in flames in central Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
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Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Benoit Tessier/Reuters
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A woman reacts as she watches the flames engulf the roof of the  Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images
A woman reacts as she watches the flames engulf the roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (L), and French President Emmanuel Macron (3rd L) gather in near the entrance of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, as flames engulf its roof on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty Images
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (L), and French President Emmanuel Macron (3rd L) gather in near the entrance of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, as flames engulf its roof on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)
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TOPSHOT - Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.Images posted on social media showed flames and huge clouds of smoke billowing above the roof of the gothic cathedral, the most visited historic monument in Europe. (Photo by Patrick ANIDJAR / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICK ANIDJAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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TOPSHOT - Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.Images posted on social media showed flames and huge clouds of smoke billowing above the roof of the gothic cathedral, the most visited historic monument in Europe. (Photo by Patrick ANIDJAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read PATRICK ANIDJAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Crowds look on as flames and smoke billow from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.Images posted on social media showed flames and huge clouds of smoke billowing above the roof of the gothic cathedral, the most visited historic monument in Europe. (Photo by ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP)
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Crowds look on as flames and smoke billow from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.Images posted on social media showed flames and huge clouds of smoke billowing above the roof of the gothic cathedral, the most visited historic monument in Europe. (Photo by ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP)
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TOPSHOT - Smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP)
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Smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. - A major fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky, the fire service said. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year, where renovations are currently underway. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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Smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. - A major fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky, the fire service said. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year, where renovations are currently underway. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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(CNN Business) —  

One after the other, France’s three richest families opened their checkbooks and pledged a combined $565 million to rebuild the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

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.

Tax controversy

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.