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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brown: The IRS Should Report on Tax Returns Filed by Members of Congress

Forbes:  It's Time We Learned What Members of Congress Pay in Taxes, by Dorothy A. Brown (Emory):

On Friday President and Mrs. Obama released their most recent tax return for the entire world to see.  They continued a longstanding tradition of sitting presidents releasing their returns, even though no law requires that they do so. The tradition began under the late President Richard Nixon. ...

Itemized deductions often come with a hefty price tag. The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that for 2013 the amount of revenue lost because of the three deductions the Obamas took (which happen to be among the most popular deductions taken) will be: $90 billion for mortgage interest, $47 billion for charitable contributions, and $46 billion for state and local income taxes. ... One part of the minority that benefits from itemized deductions is members of Congress.

Although Presidents have voluntarily released their tax returns for the last several decades, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to members of Congress. McClatchy newspapers reported last July that of the 535 members asked to release their most recent tax returns, just 17 did. ... I suspect that if we looked at the tax returns of eavery member of Congress we would see something close to a 100% itemization rate. Compare that to only a third of the American public, and the numbers would suggest that repeal is the best way forward.

Given that I do not expect members of Congress to change their ways, one way to move closer to reform would be for the IRS to issue a new kind of report, which I call the “535 Report.” It would provide in summary fashion the information from the tax returns of all members of Congress.  The 535 Report would be similar in concept to what the IRS currently produces for the tax returns of the 400 highest-income individuals.

No law is needed, because no privacy rights would be violated. All the IRS would have to do would be to crunch the numbers. Then we would know what percent of Congress itemized deductions and what the most popular deductions were. We could then compare the information with what the IRS already produces about the American taxpaying public in general, and hopefully encourage voters to demand change.

David Cay Johnston reported in The New York Times in June 2003 that the 400 report was begun in response to a professor asking for it.  Let’s see if lightening can strike twice.

For more, see Dorothy Brown, The 535 Report: A Pathway to Fundamental Tax Reform, 40 Pepp. L. Rev. ___ (2013).  For the video of Dorothy's presentation of the paper at the January 18, 2013 Pepperdine/Tax Analysts Symposium on Tax Advice for the Second Obama Administration, see iTunes and YouTube.

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Comments

If all you want to know is how many itemize and what the most popular deductions are, the answer is 100% and taxes, interest, and charitable contributions. No report is needed. The taxes on their salary alone is almost enough to itemize.

Posted by: the real anon | Apr 17, 2013 2:18:35 PM

Scratching my head of what is Brown getting at. Itemizing deductoons is bad? Hey I am all for a Forbes stule flat tax, but since that is not what we have I itemize. I'd be an idiot not to. And I am not going to cry over "lost" revenue. Uncle Sam has plenty, he should try to spend less sometime

Posted by: Clay | Apr 18, 2013 7:55:12 PM

Every time I see the name "David Cay Johnston" attached to one of these articles, I'm immediately suspicious of the article's premise. It's positively Pavlovian.

Posted by: George | Apr 19, 2013 4:17:25 AM