TaxProf Blog

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

Friday, April 8, 2016

The IRS Scandal, Day 1065

IRS Logo 2 American Thinker, Should California AG Harris Be Investigated for Tax Code Violations?:

Following revelations that Richard Nixon used the IRS to target his “enemies” for tax audits, Congress amended the Internal Revenue Code to restrict access by federal and state government officials to federal tax return information. The post-Watergate reforms include civil and criminal penalties for inspection and disclosure of federal tax returns not expressly authorized for legitimate and expressly identified law enforcement purposes.

The tax code requires that an annual tax return be filed by charities and other nonprofit organizations -- IRS Form 990. Under Section 6104 of the tax code, those returns of charities and other nonprofits must be made available for public inspection. Now, many Forms 990 are even made available on public websites such as Guidestar.org. The tax code, however, treats the names and addresses of donors listed on those Form 990 Schedule B’s quite differently than any of the other information on that form. Information about donors remain subject to the Code’s strict confidentially provisions.

California attorney general Kamala Harris is the state’s top charity regulator, overseeing California’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. Ms. Harris has decided to bypass federal law expressly requiring her to obtain Schedule B information directly from the IRS on a case-by-case basis if she has a legitimate need for donor information to enforce her state’s charitable solicitation laws. Instead of abiding by federal law, she’s employing a dragnet method, demanding that all charities registering with her office submit their Schedule B donor lists to the Registry in order to solicit contributions from Californians.

Charities even outside the state that wish to communicate with potential supporters in California are first required to register with Harris’ office before they may ask Californians for contributions, giving Ms. Harris tremendous power over “national” nonprofit organizations. By demanding the donor lists of not only California-based charities, but all charities seeking support from Californians, she has extended her reach to violate the right of private association of donors and charities throughout the entire country.

People may wonder why federal confidentiality laws should apply to names and addresses of donors filed with the IRS on Schedule B of charities’ tax returns. In the 1950s, the Alabama attorney general wanted to disrupt the civil rights movement in his state by obtaining the names of financial supporters of the NAACP. The Supreme Court shut down his demands in the landmark case NAACP v. Alabama. The court said that forced disclosure to government officials of the NAACP’s financial backers and members would seriously harm the right of private association protected by the First Amendment.

These principles were the law of the land when Congress enacted the donor confidentiality provisions, and are reflected in the federal confidentiality laws helping to protect charities and their donors from abuse and intimidation by government officials.

Lois Lerner’s IRS was caught violating the tax code confidentiality laws when it disclosed donor names and addresses of the National Organization for Marriage to opponents of that nonprofit organization. In addition, IRS emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Lerner’s IRS gave the Federal Election Commission “detailed, confidential information concerning the tax exempt application status and returns of conservative groups” in violation of the tax code’s confidentiality laws. The tax code’s penalties applicable to acquisition, inspection, and disclosure of charities’ confidential federal tax return information applies to state officials.

Ms. Harris’ actions make a statement that she believes she is above the rule of law, and she’s willing to use the heavy hand of her office to abuse Americans’ right to private association. The Obama Justice Department has given many passes to lawbreaking by government officials who are political allies, and the ambitious candidate for U.S. Senate Kamala Harris could also escape investigation by this administration for violating federal law. However, Congress and the next administration do appear to have grounds to question Ms. Harris about these matters, and take a hard look into whether she and her office are engaged in criminal violations of the federal tax code.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2016/04/the-irs-scandal-day-1065.html

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Comments

The usual hogwash. There is no prohibition against what Harris is doing. Secs. 6103 and 6104 are very specific in their prohibitions and regulate information that has acquired by the IRS and disclosed by the IRS to state revenue agencies (among others not relevant here). Harris' approach to regulating California non-profits is no different than a bank requiring a loan applicant to submit a copy of their 1040. What's really going on here? California conservatives trying to derail a popular state politician's bid for a U.S. senate seat. Nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 8, 2016 6:13:29 AM

PN: Really? I thought our happy comrades in the Peoples's Republic had sent all California conservatives to reeducation camps.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Apr 8, 2016 7:27:15 AM

You're probably right Mr. Spradling. The conservatives are probably from out-of-state, from Kansas or somewhere like that.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 9, 2016 11:35:50 AM