When Leaks Drive Tax Law (a.k.a. our new paper!)

Shu-Yi Oei

Diane Ring and I just posted our new article, Leak-Driven Law, on SSRN. I had previously blogged about this paper as part of Leandra Lederman’s 2017 Mini-Symposium on Tax Enforcement and Administration, The abstract is here:

Over the past decade, a number of well-publicized data leaks have revealed the secret offshore holdings of high-net-worth individuals and multinational taxpayers, leading to a sea change in cross-border tax enforcement. Spurred by leaked data, tax authorities have prosecuted offshore tax cheats, attempted to recoup lost revenues, enacted new laws, and signed international agreements that promote “sunshine” and exchange of financial information between countries.

The conventional wisdom is that data leaks enable tax authorities to detect and punish offshore tax evasion more effectively, and that leaks are therefore socially beneficial from an economic welfare perspective. This Article argues, however, that the conventional wisdom is too simplistic. In certain circumstances, leak-driven lawmaking may in fact produce negative social welfare outcomes. Agenda-setting behaviors of leakers and media organizations, inefficiencies in data transmission, suboptimally designed legislation, and unanticipated behavioral responses by enforcement-elastic taxpayers are all factors that may reduce social welfare in the aftermath of a tax leak.

This Article examines the potential welfare outcomes of leak-driven lawmaking and identifies predictable drivers that may affect those outcomes. It provides suggestions and cautions for making tax law, after a leak, in order to best tap into the benefits of leaks while managing their pitfalls.

In this paper, we wanted to explore how leaks of taxpayer data in the offshore context have shaped international tax law and policy, both in the US and other countries. We especially were interested in the possibility that—while leaks might appear useful on the surface from a tax enforcement and informational standpoint—there are unexplored pitfalls and downsides to relying on leaks to direct lawmaking and policy priorities.

In the non-tax world, of course, leaks have suddenly become very salient, in terms of both their usefulness and their dangers. But (non-tax lurkers take note!) tax law has been dealing with leaks of taxpayer information and what they mean for tax enforcement for at least the past ten years. Of course, tax leaks have some distinctive characteristics that make them different from other types of leaks. For example, the tax leaks that are the subject of this paper are usually (though not invariably) leaks of private taxpayer data, rather than leaks about governments from government sources.

We do think that the framework we introduce in our paper for analyzing the upsides and downsides of leak-driven lawmaking can be applied to explore how non-tax leaks and reactions to them may be socially beneficial but could also lead to less than ideal results. In both tax and in other fields, the meta-issue is not just how governments and private actors can use leaked information to sanction bad behaviors, make decisions, or design laws. Rather, the issue is how the actions and responses of leakers, governments, journalists, international organizations and the public work together to create and promote certain outcomes. Once we understand the underlying dynamics, then we can consider how the outcomes they create should be evaluated, supported, or resisted.

If you’re working on leak-related scholarship in either tax or other fields, we’d love to chat.

Leak-Driven Lawmaking

Shu-Yi Oei
Hoffman F. Fuller Professor of Law, Tulane Law School

Over the past decade, a steady drip of tax leaks has begun to exert an extraordinary influence on how international tax laws and policies are made. The Panama Papers and Bahamas leaks are the most recent examples, but they are only the tip of the leaky iceberg. Other leaks include (in roughly chronological order) the UBS and LGT leaks; the Julius Baer leak; HSBC “SwissLeaks”; the British Havens leaks; and the LuxLeaks scandal.

These tax leaks have revealed the offshore financial holdings and tax evasion and avoidance practices of various taxpayers, financial institutions, and tax havens. In so doing, they have been valuable in correcting long-standing informational asymmetries between taxing authorities and taxpayers with respect to these activities. Spurred by leaked data, governments and taxing authorities around the world have gone about punishing taxpayers and their advisers, recouping revenues from offshore tax evasion, enacting new domestic laws, and signing multilateral agreements that create greater transparency and exchange of financial information between countries.

Thus, it is clear that leaked data has started to be a significant driver in how countries conduct cross-border tax enforcement and make international tax law and policy. But using leaks to direct and formulate tax policy responses comes with some potentially serious pitfalls.

In a new paper—coming soon to an SSRN near you[fn.1]Diane Ring and I explore the social welfare effects of leak-driven lawmaking. Our argument, very generally, is that while data leaks can be socially beneficial by virtue of the behavioral responses they trigger and the enforcement-related laws and policies generated in their wake, there are under-appreciated downside hazards and costs to relying on leaked data in deterring tax evasion and making tax policy.

Continue reading “Leak-Driven Lawmaking”

The Art of the (Budget) Deal

By Daniel Hemel and David Herzig

Who Holds the Trump Card on Reconciliation?

Republicans on Capitol Hill are reportedly planning to use the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to repeal the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax code. Against that background, Sam Wice says that “the most powerful person in America” in 2017 will be Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, the nonpartisan official who will “determine” how much of their agenda Republicans can pass through reconciliation. This, of course, is an exaggeration: like it or not, the most powerful person in America in 2017 will be Donald J. Trump, who will wield all the power of the imperial presidency. But Wice’s post helpfully directs our attention to the budget reconciliation process, the rules of which quite likely will determine whether the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill can repeal the ACA and reform the tax laws.

Yet while one should not underestimate the importance of reconciliation, one should also not overestimate the power of the Parliamentarian in the reconciliation process. As a formal matter, the Parliamentarian’s role is advisory; and as a practical matter, the Parliamentarian has little say over significant aspects of reconciliation. Other actors—most notably, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wy.)—wield at least as much influence as the Parliamentarian. Most importantly, Enzi—not MacDonough—will determine whether the provisions in any reconciliation bill violate various rules against deficit-increasing legislation being passed via reconciliation. And unlike the Parliamentarian, the Budget Committee Chairman is very hard to fire.

Reconciliation measures can begin in either or both chambers. However, since the ultimate vote on the budget measure occurs in the Senate, we’ll focus on the Senate side of the reconciliation process for purposes of this discussion. On the House side, the Rules Committee Chair and the Budget Committee Chair will wield outsized influence as well. We expect Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) to stay on as House Rules Committee Chair; as for the House Budget Committee Chair, the race is on for a replacement to Tom Price, the Georgia Republican recently tapped as Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary.

To understand why the Budget Committee Chair is as powerful as he is, a bit of background on reconciliation may be helpful. Continue reading “The Art of the (Budget) Deal”

ClassCrits IX: The New Corporatocracy and Election 2016

Surly bloggers Sam Brunson, David Herzig and I (and Leslie Book over at Procedurally Taxing) are attending the ClassCrits IX conference hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law today and tomorrow. From the call for papers back in March:

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, our 2016 conference will explore the role of corporate power in a political and economic system challenged by inequality and distrust as well as by new energy for transformative reform.

There are some notable tax-related panels happening at the conference, along with other interesting panels relating to corporations and democracy:

Taxation, Social Justice and Development (Friday 10/21/16)

Doron Narotzki, University of Akron Business Administration
Corporate Social Responsibility and Taxation: The Next Step of the Evolution

Rohan Grey, Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity & Nathan Tankus, Modern Money Network
Corporate Taxation in a Modern Monetary Economy: Legal History, Theory, Prospects

Karl Botchway, CUNY Technology & Jamee Moudud, Sarah Lawrence Economics
Capacity Building, Taxation and Corporate power in Africa

Martha T. McCluskey, SUNY Buffalo Law, Corporatocracy and Class in State and Local “Job-Creation” Subsidies

Distributing Wealth, Law and Power (Friday 10/21/16)

Goldburn P. Maynard, Jr., University of Louisville Law
A Plea for Courts to Abolish the Judicially Created Right of the Wealthy to Avoid Estate Taxes

Victoria J. Haneman, Concordia University Law
The Collision of Holographic Wills and the 120-Hour Rule

Doron Narotzki, University of Akron Business Administration
Dark Pools, High-Frequency Trading and the Financial Transaction Tax: A Solution or Complication?

Robert Ashford, Syracuse University Law
Why Working But Poor?

Critical Perspectives on Tax Law (Saturday 10/22/16)

Shu-Yi Oei, Tulane University Law
The Troubling Case of Offshore Tax Enforcement

Les Book, Villanova University Law
Bureaucratic Oppression and the Tax System

Samuel Brunson, Loyola University Chicago Law
Avoiding Progressivity: RICs, Pease, and the AMT

David Herzig, Valparaiso University Law
Let Prophets Be (Non) Profits

Make Way for Ducklings?

Shu-Yi Oei 

Professor Charlotte Crane (Northwestern) presented Integrating a Fragmented Corporate Income Tax at BC Law School’s Tax Policy Workshop yesterday. Briefly, the paper is focused on recent proposals to integrate the corporate income tax, in particular, the yet-to-be-released Orrin Hatch proposal from the Senate Finance Committee. I’m no corporate tax expert, but the workshop afforded me the excuse to wade like a duckling through the recent literature…a nice break from other projects.

The corporate integration debate refers to the question of whether to eliminate the corporate double tax (i.e., the tax on both the corporation and its shareholders on the same underlying income) and replace it with a single layer of tax. Many have argued that this would reduce tax burdens, minimize economic distortions, and bring us closer to tax neutrality in investment decisions. Others have argued that corporate integration achieved through shifting the corporate tax to the shareholder level will enhance progressivity and fairness.

The integration debate has raged for decades, with important Treasury and ALI studies in 1992 and 1993, and a surge of recent academic and policy interest. There are various design possibilities, including: integration via a shareholder credit (a.k.a. imputation), integration via a dividend deduction paired with a shareholder withholding tax, integration via a shareholder dividend exclusion, flow-through taxation, and others. A couple of recent proposals: Toder and Viard have suggested eliminating the corporate tax and replacing it with taxation of shareholder dividends and gains at ordinary rates, with gains taxed on a mark-to-market (accrual) basis. And Gruber and Altshuler even more recently proposed pairing a lowered (15%) corporate tax rate with ordinary income taxation of shareholder dividends and capital gains (including an interest charge on deferred shareholder liabilities designed to minimize behavioral distortions).

Continue reading “Make Way for Ducklings?”

Does Enforcement Reduce Compliance?

Shu-Yi Oei 

Boston College Law School held its first Tax Policy Workshop of the semester last Thursday and the speaker was Surly Blogger Leandra Lederman. Leandra presented a draft paper entitled “To What Extent Does Enforcement Crowd Out Voluntary Tax Compliance?” The draft isn’t publicly available yet, but you can email Leandra for a copy.

So, what’s the paper about? The standard economic model tells us that a taxpayer will weigh the magnitude of the penalty and the likelihood of audit to reach an “expected” cost of punishment for tax evasion. Allingham & Sandmo (1972). So, if the audit rate is low (which it is), the expected cost of evasion also remains low, absent draconian penalties. Yet, we see relatively high voluntary compliance rates in the U.S. Some scholars claim that this is a “puzzle” and theorize that there is some sort of “intrinsic motivation” to comply with tax obligations, regardless of the low expected costs of punishment. Leandra has pointed out in several articles that this simple comparison presents a false puzzle because it ignores information reporting (and withholding), which IRS voluntary compliance statistics show is highly effective. She argues that information reporting is akin to an invisible audit. Nonetheless, some scholars suggest that enforcement and deterrence action are “extrinsic motivators” that might actually reduce compliance by displacing (i.e., “crowding out”) preexisting internal motivations to comply.

Leandra’s paper synthesizes the empirical literature on the effects of audit threats and fines as well as the growing tax and non-tax literature on contexts in which enforcement can lead to reduced compliance. In brief, the paper finds:

Continue reading “Does Enforcement Reduce Compliance?”

Tax Evasion and Risk Perceptions among Lawyers in China

Shu-Yi Oei

I recently read an interesting article by Prof. Benjamin van Rooij (UC Irvine), Weak Enforcement, Strong Deterrence: Dialogues with Chinese Lawyers about Tax Evasion and Compliance, 41 Law & Social Inquiry 288 (2016), available here.

The article studies a particular form of tax evasion practiced by some lawyers in China: The lawyer, although affiliated with a law firm, retains clients privately, accepts cash payments from such clients without giving the client a tax receipt, and does not report the case to the law firm. This behavior actually contains both a tax evasion and a business-driven purpose: it enables the lawyer to underreport income for tax purposes while also avoiding payment of a significant cut to the law firm. Unsurprisingly, the law prohibits these practices. The paper employs qualitative “semistructured” interviews with lawyers at large and medium-sized law firms using open-ended questions, in order to generate a nuanced picture of how enforcement, deterrence, and risk are perceived by these lawyers.

The findings are fascinating, and provide a unique perspective on legal ethics, tax compliance, and perceptions of enforcement and deterrence among lawyers in China. Continue reading “Tax Evasion and Risk Perceptions among Lawyers in China”

Time for the ABA/Tax Times!

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By: Francine J. Lipman

Professor Linda Beale and her team of dedicated editors and staff have once again produced an outstanding issue of ABA Section of Taxation Times.

This issue of TT features a farewell from the exceptional outgoing ABA/Tax Section Chair , George C. Howell, III, Hunton & Williams LLP, Richmond, VA and a welcome from the enthusiastic and energetic incoming ABA/Tax Section Chair William H. Caudill, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, Houston TX. I personally appreciate the focus and support both of these gentlemen have given, are giving, and will continue to give to the Tax Section’s pro bono and public service efforts as well as their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Thank you ABA – Tax Section for reaching out for a greater good!

Next, Professors Joe Bankman   att-16aug-bankman-joseph.jpg   and James E. Maule  att-16aug-maule-james-edward.jpg  engage in a thoughtful point-counterpoint discussion on the important issue of tax filing simplification.

The brilliant Jasper L. Cummings, Jr. in “Spending Without Appropriations: Who’s to Complain?” discusses the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) decision of United States House of Representatives v. Burwell, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62646 (D. D.C. 2016). In the decision, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that DHHS cannot pay insurance companies the costs they incur in reducing the “cost sharing” for some ACA insurance policy holders. The court enjoined further payments to the insurance companies for those costs, but stayed the injunction pending appeal, which surely will occur. In other words, the House of Representatives won.

On a lighter note, here is a new tax tune, titled OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program), by Robert S. Steinberg of Palmetto Bay, FL, sung to the tune of “Tonight,” by Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim, from West Side Story. Unknown

Finally, Tax Law Professors take note,          PR

SEPTEMBER 6, 2016, the 16th Annual Law Student Tax Challenge begins so spread the word to your students near and far!

And there are even more treasures in the August issue of the Tax Times, but I will let you dig up those pearls of wisdom yourself!  There is something for every tax professional in the ABA-TT.images-2

 

Call for Papers: Applied Feminism and Intersectionality: Examining Law through the Lens of Multiple Identities

By: Francine J. Lipman

The Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law seeks paper proposals for the Tenth Anniversary of the Feminist Legal Theory Conference. We hope you will join us for this exciting celebration on March 30-31, 2017. 

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Continue reading “Call for Papers: Applied Feminism and Intersectionality: Examining Law through the Lens of Multiple Identities”

Tax Analysts’ 2016 Student Writing Competition

By:  Francine J. Lipman

Tax Analysts’ announces 2016 student writing competition winners as follows:

Continue reading “Tax Analysts’ 2016 Student Writing Competition”