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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, August 22, 2011

More on Michele Bachmann, Tax Geek

Bachmann-Newsweek Following up on my prior post, Michele Bachmann, Tax Geek: Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Michele Bachmann's Low-Key IRS Role Belied Ambitions:

In the few seconds Michele Bachmann had to introduce herself at a Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire this summer, she promptly mentioned her credential as "a former federal tax litigation attorney.''

On her campaign website, too, the Minnesota Republican highlights her first career job as a U.S. tax lawyer in St. Paul, arguing that her experience on "hundreds of civil and criminal cases'' triggered her interest in tax simplification and adds to her qualifications for the White House.

But a review of judicial records from her tenure as an IRS attorney and interviews with some of Bachmann's former peers produce a more nuanced picture -- a set of credentials that is both more and less than Bachmann claims. ...

In her tenure as an IRS attorney in St. Paul, however, it appears that Bachmann seldom entered a courtroom and fully litigated only two cases in four-plus years, according to judicial records. Co-workers from the time describe her as pleasant and professional, but cannot recall one important case or criminal prosecution she handled. ...

Bachmann's legal career dates to the late 1980s, when in the span of about two years, she passed the bar exam, earned a master's degree in tax law from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and went to work in St. Paul for the chief counsel for the IRS. Records show she worked there from 1988 until early 1993. ...

But in her signature job in jurisprudence, Bachmann never rose to any prominence and spent little time as a litigator, even though former colleagues describe it as a busy office where young lawyers had every opportunity to jump into the fray and make their mark with influential cases.

Five former IRS co-workers, who spoke on the condition they not be named, recall that Bachmann mostly stuck to lower-rung work -- settling taxpayer disputes before trial and handling her share of collection matters, refund cases and advisory work in potential criminal matters.

The co-workers said that, for whatever reason, Bachmann didn't participate in the most intense work of the office: tangling with corporations and other big taxpayers in precedent-setting disputes tried before a judge in U.S. Tax Court. ... Bachmann appears to have represented the IRS only twice in cases tried in U.S. Tax Court -- both small cases -- according to a search of judicial records. ... Colleagues from the IRS office say Bachmann was pleasant and never brought politics into her job. ...

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Despite the cheap political slapstick, Ms. Bachmann has more tax experience than President Obama's nominee to head up the Tax Division of the Justice Department. Oops. I forgot. There is no such nominee.

Posted by: Jake | Aug 22, 2011 3:37:05 PM

DoJ handles criminal tax litigation, not IRS attorneys. The most she would have done as a Chief Counsel attorney in a criminal case would be writing up a CRL (a letter to DoJ about why DoJ should prosecute the case that the IRS Special Agent worked on and gathered all the evidence to support prosecution). So the real criminal work is done by DoJ and (at that time) IRS Special Agents.

I would not challenge her claim that she worked on hundreds of civil cases based on what her co-works said about her: cherry picking the easiest cases and settling them, and trolling collection -- before the invention of CDP (6330) -- cases. Over a five year span, given what she worked on, over 100 cases does not seem unreasonable.

Of course, settling cases usually means that the government gets the taxpayer to agree to pay taxes, penalties, and interest. I do not think that she will want to be portrayed as a "tax collector" (by working on collection cases) or as someone who made the Average Joe fork over tax dollars, penalties, and interest.

How will they spin that?

Posted by: tax guy | Aug 22, 2011 5:47:28 PM

Would you please get a tweet button? I know it may sound trivial but you have a great site, help us get it out there. When I see Bachmann talk or speak she sounds like a hot mess, I don't see her standing up to the "religion of peace" do you?

Posted by: jann | Aug 22, 2011 7:31:51 PM

I had 20 years with the IRS, some of it on detail to District Counsel. The goal for the attorneys there was to settle cases before going to Tax Court. Yes, it would be quite possible to handle literally hundreds of cases in the span of 4 or 5 years but it's not likely she cherry picked her cases. She'd work the cases she was assigned, possibly, over time, developing an area of expertise. Tax Guy is correct when he says the criminal cases would have been handled by DOJ - work in the District Counsel wasn't meant to be a high flying glamour job. As for the anonymous co-workers' characterization of her: it's standard practice to assassinate the character of those who managed to move on.

Posted by: Pete Terranova | Aug 23, 2011 3:50:59 AM

My understanding is that over 90% of docketed cases settle before trial, not to mention that DOJ litigates criminal, appellate, and refund cases. I don't think her experience is all that different from those of her colleagues'.

Posted by: anonymous | Aug 23, 2011 5:39:31 AM

"it's standard practice to assassinate the character of those who managed to move on. "

Yes, I can see how 'Colleagues from the IRS office say Bachmann was pleasant and never brought politics into her job. ...' counts as character assassination.

Seems like Bachmann indulged in a little bit of resume inflation: certainly being 'involved in hundreds of civil and criminal cases' gives a slightly inflated impression of her experience.

Posted by: erg | Aug 23, 2011 8:33:33 AM

Perhaps she didn't take the high profile cases because she sided with the businesses over the service. I wanted to work for the IRS in order to learn how best to serve clients under IRS investigation. As she said, its good practice to know your enemy.

Posted by: JLW | Aug 23, 2011 8:40:22 AM

It is rather funny that the press seems to think a front line IRS attorney can pick the cases she wants to work. Those who have done this job know how laughable this really is.

As for her former co-workers making negative comments to try to derail her campaign, this is all too common with the IRS (in the field, outside of the national office). The IRS fosters a vindictive culture that actually rewards employees for this type of thing. The petty in-fighting is fierce, and unfortunate. Those who master this art rise far and fast within the IRS. Those who do not end up at the bottom, or finding jobs in the private sector.

Posted by: anon | Aug 23, 2011 10:40:19 AM

She appears to be just another attractive, somewhat nutty, woefully underqualified and intensely passionate far right candidate that they have been foisting on the public for the last couple of years. Possibly trying to recapture the "Palin Magic" of 2008 and "fire up" the base while getting lots of good press. The sad thing is there are plenty of good, qualified and responsible female Republicans out there but they get lost in the race to see who is the most extreme, the most photogenic and the most strident.

Posted by: George W | Aug 23, 2011 10:52:57 AM

"just another attractive, somewhat nutty, woefully underqualified and intensely passionate far right candidate"

change right to left, and you have POTUS

Posted by: Todd | Aug 23, 2011 3:27:36 PM

If Michele Bachmann is so dumb, why did she choose what is by common consent the most prestigious and intellectually challenging area of law?

Posted by: mike livingston | Aug 23, 2011 6:03:29 PM