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”

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 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”

Dog Owners of Tribeca

Photo by Taro the Shiba Inu. CC BY 2.0

My favorite news story from last week: it turns out that ten years ago, a group of dog owners in Tribeca installed a lock on a public New York City dog park, and started charging people a membership fee—$120 a year—if they wanted to use the (public!) park. They created a list of rules, most of which focused on keeping others out, and, if you violated the rules, you were kicked out, and apparently had to let your dog play with other proletariat dogs. (N.b.: this state of affairs lasted ten years, until the city finally cut the lock and reopened the park to the public.)

This story has everything: self-absorbed and self-righteous New Yorkers; a funny thing I read on Twitter while sitting in church Sunday; a bit on this week’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. And, perhaps more importantly, a tax angle. See, these snooty, selfish New Yorkers did something more than hijack a public space—they formed a tax-exempt organization to manage it. Continue reading “Dog Owners of Tribeca”

The Parsonage Allowance in Brief(s)

By Sam Brunson

I’ve blogged several times about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit over the parsonage allowance.[fn1] Quick refresher: Section 107(1) allows “ministers of the gospel” to exclude church-provided housing from their gross income, while section 107(2) allows them to exclude housing stipends. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued and won in the district court. The Seventh Circuit found that FFRF didn’t have standing, so two of its executives claimed a refund for the portion of their salary that had been designated a housing allowance and sued again. Again, the district court held that section 107(2) was unconstitutional.[fn2]

Now we’re in the briefing stage. And a week and a half ago, the government and intervenors filed their most recent briefs in Gaylor v. Mnuchin.

I’m not going to analyze the full briefs, but I do want to respond to a central point that the government mentions, and that the intervenors find critical in their opening brief: the idea that the parsonage allowance is part of a series of provisions that relax the default exclusion rule. Continue reading “The Parsonage Allowance in Brief(s)”

#TaxNerd: Tax Day in the Supreme Court

Today may be the most perfect #TaxNerd day possible. Not only are federal tax returns due, but the Supreme Court is actually hearing a tax case today! (For lots of great Surly coverage of Wayfair, check out Adam’s posts.)

In honor of today, I decided to wear my Illinois sales tax cufflinks. And how did I get Illinois sales tax cufflinks? Well, I was looking on Etsy for tax-related cufflinks, as one does, and came across them.

Buying them made me curious, though: what exactly are sales tax tokens? Continue reading “#TaxNerd: Tax Day in the Supreme Court”