Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Cause of Action Lawsuit

Something caught my attention this week. You know how this blog works: if it catches my attention, we likely will talk about it.
So let’s talk.
Do you remember when a senior White House official blabbed-out the following in August, 2010?
"In this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax," said the senior administration official. "Some of which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multibillion dollar businesses."
The problem is that this comment implies direct knowledge of Koch’s tax status, which – if offered up by a White House official – is a violation of federal law. You know, the kind of law you or I would go to jail for breaking.
In November, 2011 the New York Times opened its front-page guns on Ronald Lauder, a Reagan administration official and the chairman of the Jewish National Fund and of the World Jewish Congress.  The Times picked on Mr. Lauder for using aggressive techniques to minimize his taxes - the kind you and I might review if you hired me. There may be a point where it is too aggressive for us, but that is a different issue. None of us has a obligation to pay more tax than necessary. I would know your taxes because you would have hired me. However, how would the Times know about Mr. Lauder’s taxes? Point is… they shouldn’t. If I talked about his taxes I would lose my license, have a malpractice claim, likely be sued and who knows what else.
The irony that the Sulzbergers – the owners of the New York Times – probably used the same or similar techniques did not seem to occur to the Times.
Frank VanderSloot is a wealthy businessman who wrote a sizeable check to a PAC which supports Mitt Romney. For this he - and seven other donors - were named on an Obama campaign website as "wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records." Are you kidding me? This summer he was pulled for audit by the IRS. So was his wife. For two years. Mr. VanderSloot and his accountants do not recall ever being audited. Not bad, considering that (1) he is uber-wealthy and (2) he is 63 years old.
Where are we going with this? In April a watchdog group named Cause of Action filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a listing of tax returns the White House has requested. How does the White House get them? Take a look at Section 6103(g) of the Internal Revenue Code:
6103(g) Disclosure to President and Certain Other Persons.—
 
6103(g)(1) In general.—

Upon written request by the President, signed by him personally, the Secretary shall furnish to the President, or to such employee or employees of the White House Office as the President may designate by name in such request, a return or return information with respect to any taxpayer named in such request. Any such request shall state—

6103(g)(1)(A)  the name and address of the taxpayer whose return or return information is to be disclosed,
6103(g)(1)(B)  the kind of return or return information which is to be disclosed,
6103(g)(1)(C)  the taxable period or periods covered by such return or return information, and
6103(g)(1)(D)  the specific reason why the inspection or disclosure is requested.

The IRS rejected the request, stating that it could not disclose information “specifically exempted from disclosure by another law.” The IRS appears to be referencing the fact that tax returns are confidential and cannot be released pursuant to the FOIA. The IRS has not explained however how a listing of returns requested by the White House is the same as releasing the tax returns themselves.

So this Tuesday Cause of Action filed a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service.

I am uncomfortable that a lawsuit was even necessary.

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