It Took House Democrats More Than Three Years To Receive Donald Trump’s Federal Income Tax Returns, Which They Were Free to the public last Friday. That effort also needed to set a dangerous precedent that threatens the privacy of Democrats as well as Republicans.
Every president since Jimmy Carter has voluntarily released his tax returns. Trump’s disregard of that tradition has drawn much criticism and invited speculation as to what he might be hiding. but federal law Generally protects the privacy of information that Americans are legally required to share with the IRS.
Democrats found a way around that obstacle by calling for provision Internal Revenue Code which authorizes the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to request “information on any return or refund”. In April 2019, the committee’s chairman, Representative Richard Neal, D-Mass., demanded tax returns for then-President Trump and several of his businesses.
Indigo Said His committee was “considering legislative proposals and conducting oversight relating to our federal tax laws, including but not limited to IRS audits and enforcement of federal tax laws against a president.” The Treasury Department rejected Neal’s request.
that was the decision supported by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which noted that “Congress could not have constitutionally granted the committee the authority to compel the executive branch to disclose confidential information without a valid legislative purpose.” The OLC agreed with the Treasury Department that “the Committee’s interest in reviewing the Internal Revenue Service’s audit of the President’s returns was emphasized and that its real purpose was to make the President’s tax returns public, which is not a valid legislative purpose.” Is.”
Similar to what happened last week. The committee’s investigation found that the IRS had fail to comply with a rule requiring annual audits of the president’s returns, a lapse that prompted Legislation For the purpose of codifying that mandate. But that “legislative purpose” did not require public disclosure of his returns without Trump’s consent.
A federal judge sided with Neill, and last August the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Confirmation That decision. Supreme Court in November refused to issue a stay, which was Trump’s last hope of keeping his returns confidential.
The DC Circuit declined to speculate about Neill’s true intentions. “The fact remains that individual members of Congress may have political motivations as well as legislative ones,” the appeals court said.
The result is that Neal’s heirs can obtain and disclose anyone’s tax returns, provided they claim the information may be useful to the executive branch in overseeing or writing legislation. It’s not hard to imagine how Republicans, who recently took control of the House, might use that power to harass their political opponents.
Republicans could argue that Hunter Biden’s tax returns are relevant in the investigation into a possible “conflict of interest” of the president, which is one of the topics Neal mentioned in his June 2021 speech. Letter To the Treasury Department. Or they can obtain tax information about Democratic political donors or left-wing philanthropists with an eye toward legislation addressing campaign finance or charitable deductions.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, then ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, warning Last week that Democrats had overturned “decades of privacy protections for average Americans” and created “a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president.” This concern is about more than partisan posture.
If legislators become accustomed to deploying this weapon, “it’s the end of tax secrecy,” George K. Yin, a retired professor of tax law at the University of Virginia, told new York Times, “Essentially nobody’s tax information is really secure, unless you cross that to some interest that happens to be in power at a particular point. Then we’re all vulnerable.
Jacob Sullam is a senior editor at Reason magazine.
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