Remedies and the Parsonage Allowance

By Sam Brunson

On Friday, the Western District of Wisconsin ruled (again) on the constitutionality of the section 107(2) rental allowance for “ministers of the gospel.”[fn1] The litigation between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the IRS has been going on for a long time—I first blogged about it in 2013—so I’m not going to spend a lot of space here discussing the specifics of the case. If you want to look at what’s been going on, you can check out this post and the posts I’ve linked to in it.[fn2] Long story short, this is the second time the court has ruled the rental allowance is unconstitutional. The first time, the Seventh Circuit reversed on the grounds that the plaintiffs had never tried to claim a tax-free rental allowance, so they had no standing. This time, they did claim a refund, which the IRS refused, the court found standing, and, in a well-written and extremely persuasive opinion, it again found section 107(2) unconstitutional.

Although the court declared that section 107(2) violated the Establishment Clause, it didn’t order a remedy. The opinion explains that in the first round, all of the parties assumed that the only relief available was to declare the provision unconstitutional and enjoin its enforcement. This time, though, the Freedom From Religion Foundation suggests that there may be two other remedies available. The first is to refund a portion of plaintiffs’ taxes and order the IRS to “extend benefits under the statute to those excluded.” The second is to declare section 107(1) (that is, the in-kind provision of tax-free housing to “ministers of the gospel”) also unconstitutional. Continue reading “Remedies and the Parsonage Allowance”

Tomorrow’s Ninth Circuit Oral Argument in Altera

By: Leandra Lederman

Susan Morse and Stephen Shay have blogged today on Procedurally Taxing about the Ninth’s Circuit oral argument tomorrow in Altera Corp. v. Commissioner, as has Dan Shaviro on his blog, Start Making SenseAltera is the transfer pricing and administrative law case involving the Treasury’s cost-sharing agreement regulation. The Tax Court invalidated the regulation under the Administrative Procedure Act, as arbitrary and capricious. That is because the Tax Court accepted the taxpayer’s argument that it need not share stock-based compensation costs under a qualified cost-sharing agreement because arm’s length parties would not do so. The Tax Court found that Treasury had inadequately addressed evidence in the notice-and-comment process that parties not under common control did not share stock-based compensation costs, although Treasury explained in the Preamble to the regulation that cost-sharing agreements between uncontrolled parties are not sufficiently comparable to those in controlled-party transactions.

Altera raises an important administrative law question about what is required of Treasury for its regulations to be valid. Susie and Steve spearheaded an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit in favor of the Commissioner, in which I joined, along with Dick Harvey, Ruth Mason, and Bret Wells. An amicus brief prepared by another group of professors also supports the Commissioner. There are also amicus briefs by business groups on the other side. See Susie and Steve’s blog post for more detail. And for prior coverage on the Surly Subgroup, see this post on our amicus brief, explaining why the Ninth Circuit should reverse the Tax Court’s decision invalidating the regulation.

IRS ‘Targeted’ Liberal Organizations and After All These Years TIGTA is Still Wrong

darts-2349444_1920By: Philip Hackney

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) just issued a new report four years and five months after rebuking the IRS for using “inappropriate” criteria to select applications for tax exempt status for scrutiny. In the first report, TIGTA rebuked the IRS for pulling the applications of conservative leaning organizations for greater scrutiny.

This time it considers the fact that the IRS over a period of 10 years used liberal leaning names such as ACORN, Emerge, and Progressive as criteria for pulling applications for greater scrutiny. This resulted in the IRS applying greater scrutiny to these organizations. Some might say the IRS targeted these organizations. Those organizations appear to have faced long wait times as well, and sometimes some questions of limited merit.

I write this piece to make two points: (1) had this information been in the initial report, I don’t think we would have had the “scandal” that shook the IRS and the political world of the time; and (2) the TIGTA report built its primary claim on a garbled faux legal postulate. The original report did terrible damage to the IRS and individuals by failing on both of these fronts. Continue reading “IRS ‘Targeted’ Liberal Organizations and After All These Years TIGTA is Still Wrong”

The Real IRS Scandal

By: Leandra Lederman

It is well known that the IRS was accused in 2013 of targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups for delays in their 501(c)(4) applications for tax-exempt status. TIGTA’s May 2013 report (and Lois Lerner’s statements at an ABA Tax Section meeting a few days earlier) launched the controversy, which harmed the IRS and a number of its employees. (Cf. my earlier Surly post, “Don’t Impeach IRS Commissioner Koskinen.”)

In 2016, I published an article, “IRS Reform: Politics As Usual?,” analyzing the facts underlying these accusations and the law applicable to the IRS’s determination of tax-exempt status. I argued that the facts showed that the IRS was not motivated by partisan politics. Rather, what happened was that IRS employees included a keyword approach in its efforts to triage the large volume of applications for tax-exempt status it was receiving. Its “Be On the Lookout” (BOLO) list of words was designed to help it identify for further scrutiny those organizations that were engaged in more political activity than was permitted under section 501(c)(4), which, generally speaking gants exempt status to organizations “for the promotion of social welfare.” As I describe in that article, the IRS tried but failed to get ahead of a brewing political controversy on this. There was evidence even in the 2010 IRS PowerPoint highlighting types of groups applying for a determination of exempt status under 501(c)(4) that the IRS had both Tea Party and progressive political organizations on its radar. But the news was full of stories of the IRS supposedly targeting conservative tax-exempt organizations.

The Washington Post has reported in an article titled Liberal groups got IRS scrutiny, too, inspector general suggests, that TIGTA will be issuing a new report finding that the IRS also used keywords to try to identify progressive groups engaging in too much political activity to qualify for the tax exemption under 501(c)(4) they were applying Continue reading “The Real IRS Scandal”

Appealing Chamber of Commerce v. IRS?

By Sam Brunson

Last Friday the District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a decision in Chamber of Commerce v. IRS.  In its decision, the court held that the IRS violated the Administrative Procedure Act in issuing Treas. Reg. § 1.7874-8T. The most interesting part of the case was that the Chamber got past the standing and Anti-Injunction Act hurdles; the substantive decision was that Congress didn’t eliminate the notice-and-comment requirement by expressly permitting time-limited temporary regulations. For a great substantive discussion of the case, take a look at Andy Grewal’s post on Notice & Comment.

The question on everybody’s mind now is, will the government appeal? On the one hand, as Andy explains, the court’s opinion is fairly summary; it may be right that the Anti-Injunction Act doesn’t bar the suit here, but it hasn’t done the work to make the holding bullet-proof.

On the other hand, the IRS takes a risk appealing to the Fifth Circuit. I’m not a close court-watcher, but I’ve heard talk that the Fifth Circuit is less than totally favorable to the IRS. Continue reading “Appealing Chamber of Commerce v. IRS?”