Business

‘Olympic Fund’ donation entry on Mass. state tax return is not what it seems

Massachusetts taxpayers willing to part with a slice of their state refunds can choose from a list of charitable options right on the tax form: endangered wildlife, organ transplants, the Massachusetts US Olympic Fund.

Huh? How, one wonders, did the Boston 2024 Olympic organizers swing this so quickly? They didn’t; the entry has nothing to do with Boston’s Olympic bid.

It turns out that the Olympic Fund, listed fourth out of six donation options on the 2014 state tax return, has appeared on the form since 1996, and it goes to support US Olympic teams.

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But that may confuse taxpayers.

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“People who haven’t noticed it before may question that, given the Boston 2024 campaign,’’ said Debra A. Neiman, who runs a financial planning firm in Arlington. And not everyone may have a warm reaction, she noted. “You have people who are passionately for and against hosting.”

Massachusetts taxpayers have checked off the Olympic box in droves and directed more than $883,000 to the cause since the year 2000, according to state records. And they would have had to read the instructions rather carefully to know where that money was going. Anyone racing through an online tax program to complete the dreaded annual task will see no explanation of what the Olympic Fund is all about.

For nearly two decades, money earmarked by Massachusetts taxpayers for the fund has been sent to the US Olympic Committee for “paying all or part of any costs associated with the development, maintenance, and operation” of the teams participating in the Olympics or Paralympics, according to the tax return instructions.

Massachusetts is not alone in supporting Olympic athletes via tax refunds. Ten states have an Olympic Fund designation on their tax forms, according to Mark Jones, a spokesman for the US Olympic Committee. And 18, including the Commonwealth, have Olympic Spirit license plates that also raise money for the cause.

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Most years, Massachusetts taxpayers have directed a total of $59,000, on average, to the Olympic Fund. That’s a lot less than they gave for homeless animals — $246,975 in fiscal 2014 — or relief for military families, at $263,965.

The Olympic organizers say there’s no intention to confuse or mislead taxpayers this year. Erin Murphy, executive vice president of Boston 2024, said in a statement, “While this fund pre-dates the Boston 2024 effort by many years and does not support the campaign to bring the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games to Massachusetts, we appreciate any effort that supports Olympic and Paralympic athletes and helps them reach their full athletic potential.’’

Still, the US Olympic Committee may benefit from increased general awareness and interest in the Olympics here. In 2004, a year in which bus-iness leaders last took steps to mount an Olympic bid in Boston, taxpayers gave slightly more than usual, $72,261.

That was not nearly as much as state revenue officials had predicted, however. The estimate that year was $281,533.

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.