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A tax break Lady Heather would love

I'm a big fan of charitable donations. I'm also a big fan of cultural events and organizations. And, of course, I am a tax geek have personal and professional interest in how the tax system works.

So I love it when all these things come together.

Over the years, my financial gifts to various museums have gotten me gift shop discounts, access to special exhibits and, of course, tax deductions.

But the gift of Ann Marie Coughlin to a New York City museum puts a whole new twist on the traditional tax and culture connection.

Coughlin is a dominatrix who recently donated her brushed-steel bondage machine to the Museum of Sex.

The intriguing thing here is not Coughlin's profession or the museum's focus, but that she got a tax deduction for the gift. OK, that's what is intriguing to me and other tax-fixated folks. I'm not going to judge your own predilections.

Unlike many cultural institutions, the Museum of Sex is a for-profit operation. Insert your own working girl, money can't buy you love, etc. joke here.

The museum does have, however, a tax-exempt affiliate, the Muse Foundation of New York, that accepts tax-deductible donations. And from those contributions come some of the museum's 15,000-item collection.

Now how's that work? The tax laws allow private companies to have such associations with nonprofit organizations as long as  the tax-exempt foundation has an independent purpose that benefits the public.

So Coughlin gave her bondage device to the foundation and the museum's curator selected it for public display.

The logical question is what exhibit donation is next?

Hey Cialis execs, when you finally decide to replace your long-running television ad campaign, you might consider sending your dual bathtubs to the Muse Foundation.

The usual donation situation: Now we can debate ad nauseum whether there's a need for such a sex museum or associated foundation. The fact is, they exist and since they follow the tax laws, then good for all involved.

And in one way, Coughlin's situation is just like the one faced by all of us spring cleaners who cart off a carload of admittedly less sensational personal property to our local charity drop-off site.

She told the New York Times that she donated pieces to the museum's foundation not for the tax-break or their cultural significance, but because she simply did not have space in her home anymore.

The rest was a bonus. "It was kind of cool," Coughlin said, "to be able to get a tax deduction."

Check out your organization: The Museum of Sex and Muse Foundation connection also underscores the need to confirm that your gift is going to an IRS-approved organization.

Before you give money or property to any group, ask about its tax status. They should have documents for you.

You also can conduct an online search of IRS Publication 78, which contains organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. also tracks tax-eligible groups.

Who's Heather? OK. Some of you have read this far and are still asking about the woman cited in the headline.

In addition to the high arts, I appreciate the value of pure entertainment. And Lady Heather definitely falls into that latter category. She was a recurring character on the original CSI show, the Las Vegas-based one.

The five episodes in which Heather (portrayed by Melinda Clarke) appeared over seven years were popular not only because she was a dominatrix, but even more so because of the hinted-at relationship between her and the show's former main character Gil Grissom (played by William Peterson).

Grissom is gone, but Heather is still popular. One website just last month created a section devoted to ongoing discussion about the character.

And given the way that television writers like to create stories that have a basis in reality (and a prurient component), perhaps they can bring her back with a teleplay about some gruesomeness in a similarly focused Sin City museum that requires investigative insight from Lady Heather.

If that show does ever air, please send residuals to me!

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