NonBelief Relief and Form 990

By Sam Brunson

Speaking of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, last Thursday it filed suit challenging the constitutionality of section 6033(a)(3)(A) of the Code.

What does that first sentence mean? Broken down roughly: the tax law requires most entities exempt under section 501 to file an annual information return. That information return—currently Form 990—is filed with the IRS, but must also be made available to the public. It allows both the IRS and the general public a window into the financial workings of tax-exempt organizations, and provides a basis for administrative and public oversight of tax-exempt organizations. (For purposes of this lawsuit, it’s also worth noting that if a tax-exempt organization that is required to file a Form 990 doesn’t for three consecutive years, it automatically loses its exemption.)

Section 6033(a)(3)(A) provides a mandatory exception to the filing requirement, though. Under the Code, churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions of churches don’t have to file a Form 990. While the IRS can still get access to them through an audit (though note that the steps the IRS must take to audit a church are really stringent), the general public has no way to see financial information about a U.S. church unless the church voluntarily discloses that information (which some do). Continue reading “NonBelief Relief and Form 990”

Seventh Circuit Preview: Gaylor v. Mnuchin

By Sam Brunson

A week from Wednesday, the Seventh Circuit will hear oral arguments in Gaylor v. Mnuchin, the case in which the Freedom From Religion Foundation is challenging the constitutionality of the parsonage allowance.[fn1]

In anticipation of the oral arguments, Professor Anthony Kreis and I are hosting a preview of the case this Wednesday, October 17, at noon. It will be in room 105 of the Corboy Law Center, 25 E. Pearson St., Chicago, IL 60611. There will be pizza, soda, and some great discussion. If you’re free for that hour (and, of course, in or near Chicago), I’d love to see you there! RSVP here. Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Preview: Gaylor v. Mnuchin”

Inheriting Property Tax Assessments in California

By Sam Brunson

I grew up in the north suburbs of San Diego and, while I haven’t lived in Southern California in a couple decades now, I try to keep a vestigial self-identification as a Southern Californian.[fn1] Part of that self-identification is listening to the Voice of San Diego podcast; it keeps me vaguely up-to-date on current politics in San Diego.

Today, as I was walking to the pet store, I turned on the most recent episode. On that episode, the regular hosts were joined by Liam Dillon, now a reporter for the LA Times. And they mentioned a story he’d recently written, about the inheritance of property tax rates in California. Continue reading “Inheriting Property Tax Assessments in California”

Trump, Tax Fraud, and the Statute of Limitations

By Sam Brunson

Photo by Takver. CC BY-SA 2.0

By now I’m sure you’ve read the New York Times story about the Trump gift tax evasion (or, if not that story—which is really, really long—at least a summary of it). There is a lot in there, and I suspect it’ll inspire more than a couple posts here, but I wanted to lead off with the statute of limitations.

Because let’s be real: I’ve always thought of the statute of limitations as being three years or, if you substantially understate your gross income, six years, unless you don’t file a return, in which case it runs forever until you file a return. Since most of the alleged fraud occurred in the 1990s or earlier, even the longer statute would be long passed.

It turns out that my mind entirely skipped over section 6501(c).[fn1] Section 6501(c) says that if you file a “false or fraudulent return,” there is no statute of limitations. The IRS can go in and assess a tax deficiency, with interest and penalties, whenever it wants. Continue reading “Trump, Tax Fraud, and the Statute of Limitations”

When Religious Tax Accommodations Are Inconsistent

By Sam Brunson

On Wednesday, October 24, the Seventh Circuit is going to hear arguments in the appeal of Gaylor v. Mnuchin. I’ve written about this parsonage allowance case a number of times in the past (see here and here for examples), but as a quick summary: section 107(2) of the Code says that “ministers of the gospel” don’t have to include rental allowances in gross income. Several years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged this parsonage allowance on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. They won in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit found that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to challenge the provision.

The Seventh Circuit also suggested, in a footnote, that if they claimed a parsonage allowance and the IRS rejected their claim, they might have standing. So they did, the IRS did, and the district court again found the provision unconstitutional. And now the Seventh Circuit will weigh in (again).

As a side note, this provision (as well as a bunch of others) made their way into God and the IRS, the book I wrote that was recently published about tax accommodations of religious individuals. The fundamental purpose of the book was to illustrate the ad hoc nature of religious accommodations in the tax law, and develop a framework that could provide some consistency as Congress and the IRS consider providing these accommodations. Continue reading “When Religious Tax Accommodations Are Inconsistent”

Paying with Data

By Adam B. Thimmesch

It is an oft repeated adage that if you are not paying for a product, then you are the product. This comment has traditionally been directed at products like Google, Facebook, and Instagram, but it is not just large software companies that are making use of consumer data as “payment” for their services. NPR recently published a story about a café in Rhode Island that is taking this one step further. They sell coffee in exchange for data.

According to the article, students and faculty at Brown University are the only customers allowed at the shop, and students get free coffee by allowing the coffee shop to gather and sell their data. The students also receive corporate pitches from the café’s workers. (Apparently professor data is not so valuable. They have to pay.) According to the article:

To get the free coffee, university students must give away their names, phone numbers, email addresses and majors, or in Brown’s lingo, concentrations. Students also provide dates of birth and professional interests, entering all of the information in an online form. By doing so, the students also open themselves up to receiving information from corporate sponsors who pay the cafe to reach its clientele through logos, apps, digital advertisements on screens in stores and on mobile devices, signs, surveys and even baristas. Continue reading “Paying with Data”

Elon Musk, Tweets, Fines, and Deductibility

By Norio Nakayama, CC BY-SA 2.0

By Sam Brunson

In the beginning of August, Elon Musk tweeted that he had secured financing to take Tesla private at $420 per share. It turned out that he, um, hadn’t. In the meantime, though, his tweet moved the market; on the day of his tweet, Tesla shares closed up 11%.[fn1]

It wasn’t only investors who noticed the tweet, though. The SEC was watching, too. And on Thursday, the SEC charged Musk with securities fraud. In its complaint, the SEC requested that the court: Continue reading “Elon Musk, Tweets, Fines, and Deductibility”

A Series of Series? Tax, Regulation, and Faculty Workshops at Boston College Law School

I do love a good faculty workshop. Reading and spiritedly discussing the work of other academics always fills me with energy and inspiration for my own projects. Plus, it’s great to be able to spend time with new and old friends and find out what’s been baking in their brains.

Here at BC Law, I’m fortunate to be involved in two exciting workshop series: the BC Tax Policy Workshop and the BC Regulation and Markets Workshop. Both kicked off this week: On Tuesday, we hosted Professor Jens Dammann from the University of Texas at Austin and heard about his paper, “Deference to Delaware Corporate Law Precedents and Shareholder Wealth: An Empirical Analysis.” Today, we welcomed Professor Ajay Mehrotra (Northwestern Law; Executive Director, American Bar Foundation) and had a lively discussion of his book project, “The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of U.S. Resistance to the VAT.” Tomorrow, BC Law will have its first Faculty Colloquium of the semester. Professor Guy-Uriel Charles (Duke Law; visiting at Harvard Law) will present “The American Promise: Rethinking Voting Rights Law and Policy for a Divided America.”

You can never have too many workshops!

Below are the dates and speakers for the remainder of the semester. If you’re a Boston-area law professor and are interested in attending or would like to be on our workshop email list, just let me know.

Tax Policy Workshop (Fall 2018):

Thursday September 13, 2018
Ajay Mehotra (Northwestern, and American Bar Foundation):
The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of US Resistance to the VAT
(co-sponsored with BC Legal History Workshop)

Tuesday November 6, 2018
Andrew Hayashi (UVA): title TBD

Tuesday Nov. 13, 2018
Cliff Fleming (BYU): title TBD

Tuesday November 27, 2018
Emily Satterthwaite (University of Toronto): title TBD
(co-sponsored with BC Regulation and Markets Workshop)

Continue reading “A Series of Series? Tax, Regulation, and Faculty Workshops at Boston College Law School”

A Quick Thought on the Accountable Capitalism Act and Federal Taxes

Last week, Senator Warren unveiled the Accountable Capitalism Act, setting off a firestorm of controversy. By and large, the responses have been all over the map, ranging from an argument that it will help companies do better for all constituencies, including shareholders, to the hyperbolic assertion that it would “help to destroy capitalism.”

I haven’t read the bill super-carefully (in fact, I mostly skimmed it late last night), but a Twitter discussion got me thinking about its potential tax consequences.

Continue reading “A Quick Thought on the Accountable Capitalism Act and Federal Taxes”