As I blogged previously, Dr. Leopoldo Parada from the University of Leeds School of Law and I (with the support of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law) will co-host the Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series again this summer. It will meet online via Zoom on Fridays from 11:30am-1pm Eastern Daylight Time (4:30-6pm British Summer Time). Last summer’s series went really well. If you are interested in cutting-edge tax issues, we hope you will consider attending!
We received numerous excellent submissions in response to this year’s Call for Papers. As stated there, we prioritized tax topics that would be of interest to scholars in multiple countries. Here is the list of speakers and the papers they’ll be presenting:
Like last year, the workshop will take place on Zoom, as a regular Zoom session. We will introduce the speaker, who will have about 20 minutes for scripted remarks, and the remainder of the time will be allocated to questions and discussion. Approximately a week in advance of each talk, we expect to share the draft paper online on the following website: law.indiana.edu/summer-tax.
The Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series is open to attendance by interested faculty, tax experts, and students. This summer, you will need to register in order to obtain the Zoom link and the password for any password-protected papers. Please register at TinyURL.com/INLeeds2021.
Students and other attendees who would like to list on their c.v. that they “participated in the 2021 Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series” should do the following:
Attend at least 5 of the scheduled sessions.
Type in the “chat” window of the Zoom session of each session you attend a brief introduction containing your name, school or other institution, location, and degree candidacy or job title.
We encourage all attendees to introduce themselves in the chat window, as well.
The Call for Papers opens today and will close on May 14, 2021 at midnight British Summer Time (7pm Eastern Daylight Time). If you are interested in presenting in the Workshop, please send the following before then to both firstname.lastname@example.org and L.Parada@leeds.ac.uk, with “Indiana/Leeds Workshop submission” in the subject line of your email:
Your name, title, and affiliation.
The paper title and an abstract of no more than 1,000 words.
Whether or not you already have a draft of the paper. (We plan to circulate a draft of each paper—a minimum of 10 pages—a week in advance of each talk.)
Whether or not the paper has been accepted for publication, and, if so, when it is expected to be published.
A list of any Fridays between May 28 and July 16 that you would not be available to present, or a statement that any Friday in that date range would work for you.
In selecting papers, preference will be given to tax topics of broad, general interest. These can involve international or domestic tax issues, but a preference will be given to topics that would be of interest to scholars in more than one country. Like last summer, we expect an international group of attendees. Note also that speakers will be strongly encouraged to limit their scripted remarks to 20 minutes, to allow ample time for questions and discussion.
Videos of all but one of last summer’s talks are online at http://www.tinyurl.com/indianaleeds. These recordings include only the introductory remarks and the scripted portion of the speaker’s presentation. We plan to take the same approach this summer for those speakers who grant permission.
It started on Twitter with the following tweet from Prof. Musgrave:
I replied with what became my most popular tweet to date. (The bar was not high.)
As Twitter replied with funny comments, the idea quickly became fodder for Break Into Tax, the YouTube channel that Allison Christians and I launched last month. So, here it is: TAX RETURN OF THE JEDI: UNOFFICIAL PARODY TRAILER. Don’t miss the Circular 230 disclaimer at the end!
This March 12th discussion will examine corruption broadly understood to encompass not only the most direct forms of corruption (e.g. bribes) but more indirect forms (including implicit deals with officials), on to questions of undue influence, conflict of interest and the power of lobbying. Attention will be given to not only government actors, but also structural and institutional features that impact corruption and avoidance of taxation, including the role of large corporations, wealth, and power bases. For more information on the Roundtable, see below. To join us for the discussion, please register here.
Recently, my resident D.C. comics fan, Nickolas Cole, asked me to watch with him Episode 3 of the animated Harley Quinn TV series, “So, You Need A Crew?”. (Warning: this show is not safe for work.) He thought I would enjoy the premise of the episode, which is that female supervillains face a glass ceiling. (You can’t make this stuff up. Well, actually, I suppose you can and someone did!)
I’m not much of a fan of cartoons but I thought the quirky humor was pretty well done. So, there I am watching Harley Quinn struggle to recruit a crew to work for her when all of a sudden, there’s the U.S. Master Tax Guide! And it has the voice of Wanda Sykes. The writers didn’t miss a trick. The intro to the tax stuff features the tax-preparation boutique “TAXES 4 FREE**NOT 4 FREE,” seemingly ripped from the headlines. (That appears at 1:17 here, but if you don’t mind cursing cartoon characters, you may enjoy the whole three-minute segment, which captures a lot of the premise of the episode.)
We do not yet live in a world in which taxpayer compliance can simply be assumed. Instead, we must rely on the interplay of reporting requirements, internal and external auditing, and ultimately whistleblowing, to help ensure compliance with the tax system. How do they fit together? What can we expect from reporting and auditing? When do they breakdown, and why? How does whistleblowing–both the actual cases and the “threat” of whistleblowing–shape law, taxpayer behavior, and society’s understanding of compliance. And when does this tax noncompliance intersect with government corruption and fraud? What recommendations and options might we consider for the future?
The 3rd Roundtable, on “Whistleblowing, Reporting and Auditing in the area of taxation,” will be held Friday February 26, 2021 at 5:30-7:00pm GMT (12:30-2:00pm EST). For more information on the panel, see below. To join us, visit the registration link here.
The Tax Valentines poems on Twitter are always a highlight of the winter for me. Tax folks can be very creative weaving together romance and tax concepts! This year, there seemed to be fewer overall, but there still are plenty to be found if you search #TaxValentines on Twitter. Prof. Kathleen DeLaney Thomas even shared Tax Valentines her students wrote as a fundraiser for public interest grants for UNC Law students!
Here are a couple of new ones I didn’t get a chance to post on Twitter:
These three frames for regulating (business) behavior are regularly examined and debated in the corporate and regulatory literature, but their application to the tax system remains under explored. If you are interested in thinking more about the tax side, join us this Friday February 12, 2021 at 5:30-7pm GMT (12:30-2:00pm EST). For more information on the panel, see below. To join, visit the registration link here.
We’ve started a new YouTube series we wanted to share with our readers! It’s called “Break Into Tax” (BiT) and can be found at tinyurl.com/BreakIntoTax.
The idea behind BiT is that we’ll discuss and break down tax-related concepts, broadly defined. This includes issues that may be of interest to law students and others newer to tax or to particular issues. The topics we plan to cover include substantive tax law concepts, tax policy concerns, the study of taxation, and the pursuit of tax as a career. We also welcome suggestions for topics in the comments on our videos!
We come at the issues from the perspective of tax law professors in the U.S. and Canada with cross-border interests. The BiT series is not at all designed to be of interest only to people from these two countries. We expect to focus on concepts that are foundational enough or general enough to be of broad interest.
Our introduction video, located here, is a good place to start. It shares more about us and the BiT channel. Our first playlist covers Tax Policy Colloquia: what are they, how to ask a good question in a tax workshop, and tips for students writing reaction papers.
It is no surprise to those working in the tax field, whether in government, private practice, academia or the nonprofit sector, that not all taxpayer mistakes are innocent. Some taxpayers affirmatively engage in fraud, and sometimes that fraud is wrapped up with corruption. The high profile spate of tax leaks beginning in 2008 helped put a more public face on many aspects of an old problem.
As part of an effort to better respond to tax crimes and corruption, the EU has funded an interdisciplinary and comparative research legal research project — VIRTEU [Vat fraud: Interdisciplinary Research on Tax crimes in the European Union]. This project is aimed at exploring connections between tax fraud and corruption. Focused in part on VAT fraud, the relevant issues and the kinds of questions that must be asked are universal across the tax system.
VIRTEU, for which I am a special advisor, is hosting a Roundtable Discussion Series this spring that brings together experts from academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to engage in topical discussions around the general problem of tax fraud and corruption. Along with the the VIRTEU project’s Principal Investigator Dr. Costantino Grasso and Co-Investigator Dr. Lorenzo Pasculli, I will be organizing and hosting the series, which is also sponsored by Boston College Law School, Coventry University Research Centre on Financial and Corporate Integrity, and OLAF (the European Anti-Fraud Office).
Nick, who’s been a Superman fan since childhood, got me the Oct. 1961 issue of the Superman comic for Christmas. It’s got a story in it billed as “Superman Owes a Billion Dollars” in taxes! Here’s the splash panel:
The basic premise is that a new Revenue Agent “at the Internal Revenue Bureau in Metropolis,” Rupert Brand,* discovers “no record that Superman has ever paid taxes!” (In case you’re wondering, nope, the IRS was not called the “Internal Revenue Bureau” back then. In 1953, it changed its name from the “Bureau of Internal Revenue” to the “Internal Revenue Service.” Perhaps a clue that not to rely on any of the tax statements in the story!)
Brand figures out the quickest way to reach Superman about this apparent delinquency, and explains that even the President of the United States pays taxes (cf.these blog posts), and so must Superman!
Why does Superman owe tax? Well, the story explains that “each year, Superman captures countless criminals, collecting a fortune in reward money!” And not just that, “whenever he digs up buried treasure” [treasure trove, anyone?] “or squeezes coal into diamonds, he earns more untold millions! All that wealth is income!”
One of the key components of the CARES Act was the Paycheck Protection Program, a $500 billion lifeline to American businesses dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting public health measures that slowed commerce across the country. Like any significant financial program, the PPP came with tax questions. The program provided participants with loans rather than grants, but those loans would be forgiven if taxpayers complied with the conditions of that program. Normally, loan forgiveness results in income to the beneficiary, but Congress provided an exemption for those amounts under the PPP. Taxpayers would therefore get to keep their entire grants if they complied with the conditions of the program. Or so many thought.
On November 5—two days after the presidential election—James O’Keefe posted an interview with a postal worker claiming that he and his colleagues were instructed to backdate ballots that they received after election day. The next day he filed an affidavit swearing that he and his colleagues had been instructed to continue picking up ballots after the November 3 deadline.
After an interview with U.S. Postal Service investigators, Richard Hopkins, the postal worker, recanted his statements. He also told investigators that his affidavit had been written by Project Veritas, the organization O’Keefe founded and with which he is associated.
Project Veritas, it turns out, is a tax-exemption organization. And its association with Hopkins may have put its exemption at risk. By signing an untrue affidavit, Hopkins almost certainly broke the law. And several attorneys interview in the Salon story say that Project Veritas may also have broken the law as a result of its involvement in the false affidavit.
Tax losses pose a special problem for the federal fisc. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first some set-up as to how tax noncompliance differs on the income side versus the deduction and credit side. The overall purposes of this post are to address some questions I’ve gotten and pull together some tax enforcement themes that are implicated by the recent NY Times reporting on Pres. Trump’s returns.
The Importance of Third-Party Reporting
A lot of tax noncompliance occurs with respect to income. Not for folks with mainly wage and salary income who maybe earn a little bit of interest from a bank account. All of that is reported by third parties (the payors) to the IRS, on information returns like Form W-2 or Form 1099. The taxpayer/payee receives a copy the information return and that both simplifies reporting and communicates what information the IRS has about the transaction. As Joe Dugan and I argue in a forthcoming article, third-party reporting is very effective. With the IRS able to do simple return matching to catch any incorrect reporting (intentional or otherwise), IRS figures like this bar graph show that there’s not a lot of noncompliance where there’s substantial third-party information reporting.
Where much tax noncompliance occurs is with respect to income earned by the self-employed and small businesses, where there’s much less third-party reporting and also more use of untraceable cash. (I added the red circle to the IRS image below.)
I was inspired last night while watching the debate to write some limericks about President Trump’s tax returns. I’m sharing them here to collecting them in one place. It would be great to see others add to the collection, too–there may not be as much love as on #TaxValentines Day–but #TaxLimericks could be a broader genre!