The Fyre Festival: Intro to Ja Rule’s Tax Troubles

By Sam Brunson

Photo by Eduardo Santos. CC BY 2.0

Like much of America, I watched a Fyre Festival documentary last week. I chose Hulu’s Fyre Fraud over Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened because I only had time for one, and Fire Fraud had an interview with Billy McFarland. (I’ve since heard great things about Netflix’s documentary, too, so I’ll probably watch it eventually.)

About nineteen and a half minutes into the documentary, we’re introduced to Ja Rule; we see him in an interview (with Wendy, apparently), who says to him, “So you spent two years in prison.”

He responds, “Yeah, I went in on my state charge for the gun charge, and they ran it concurrent with my tax stuff.”

Now, Ja Rule’s tax troubles are probably the least interesting part of the documentary (and are over, iirc, as soon as he laughs after saying “tax stuff”). But I always find celebrity tax evasion interesting, so I thought I’d run it down a little. Continue reading “The Fyre Festival: Intro to Ja Rule’s Tax Troubles”

Evelyn Brody in the Gallery

By Sam Brunson

Evelyn Brody with her painting “When in French”

Have you ever wondered what tax professors do when they’re not doing tax? In the case of Evelyn Brody (Chicago-Kent College of Law), one answer is art.

I’m sure most people who read this blog are familiar with Evelyn’s academic work, but if you’re not, she teaches and writes broadly in the income tax and nonprofit law areas. She also paints.

And when I say paints,” I mean it. Almost two weeks ago, she opened “Suspended Animation,” an exhibition of her pastels at the Leslie Wolfe Gallery. This afternoon I went to the reception she hosted at the gallery. Continue reading “Evelyn Brody in the Gallery”

Coming Soon: Trump’s Tax Returns (or Maybe Not)

By Sam Brunson

As we’re all acutely aware, in his presidential campaign, Donald Trump flouted decades of history by refusing to release his tax returns. And given that (a) the history was based on norms, not law, and (b) the Republican-controlled Congress did nothing to enforce the norms (or transform them into law), he continued to flout that norm throughout the first two years of his presidency.

But on January 3, 2019, Democrats will gain control of the House. And Democratic Representatives have made pretty clear that one of their first agenda items will be to request Trump’s tax returns. So does that mean we’ll finally get access to his tax returns?

Maybe. (But probably not.) Continue reading “Coming Soon: Trump’s Tax Returns (or Maybe Not)”

Wesley Snipes and His Offer-in-Compromise

By Sam Brunson

By nicolas genin from Paris, France [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
You may remember about a decade ago, when Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for willfully failing to file tax returns. During his sentencing, Snipes apologized for his “mistakes and errors,” and promised that “[t]his will never happen again.”

He did not, however, mention taxes in his apology. And apparently, the “this” that he promised would never happen again was not failing to pay his taxes.

Yesterday, the Tax Court issued an opinion holding that the IRS did not abuse its discretion in denying Snipes’s offer-in-compromise. Continue reading “Wesley Snipes and His Offer-in-Compromise”

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”

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”

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”

The Stages of International Tax Reform (Insights from this Weekend’s ABA Tax Section Meeting)

By: Diane Ring

Since December 2017, tax conferences in the United States have focused substantially on the H.R. 1 tax reform legislation. No surprise there — the 2017 changes are among the most significant in the past thirty years. But over the past five months, through attending numerous tax conferences featuring international tax practitioners, I’ve observed some interesting developments in the nature of the discussions and debates at these conferences. These changes are pretty revealing about the process of absorbing the true impact of the new tax law, particularly in international tax. This weekend’s ABA May Tax Section Meeting in Washington, D.C. highlighted some of these trends.

Continue reading “The Stages of International Tax Reform (Insights from this Weekend’s ABA Tax Section Meeting)”

The Gig Economy Battles Continue: 9th Circuit Weighs In on Seattle Uber Driver Ordinance

By: Diane Ring

Today the 9th Circuit weighed in on the validity of a Seattle ordinance that requires businesses contracting with taxi-drivers, for-hire transportation companies, and “transportation network companies” to bargain with drivers if a majority of drivers seek such representation. The legislation, which effectively enables Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize, drew objections from Uber, Lyft and the Chamber of Commerce— which sued the City of Seattle. In an August 2017 post, I reviewed the ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, which concluded that the Seattle ordinance was an appropriate exercise of the city’s authority and did not violate the Sherman Act (because of state action immunity) and was not preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  So what did the 9th Circuit say?

Continue reading “The Gig Economy Battles Continue: 9th Circuit Weighs In on Seattle Uber Driver Ordinance”

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”

Call for Papers: New Voices in Tax Policy and Public Finance (2019 AALS Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA)

The AALS Tax Section committee is pleased to announce the following Call for Papers:

CALL FOR PAPERS
AALS SECTION ON TAXATION WORKS-IN-PROGRESS SESSION
2019 ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 2-6, 2019, NEW ORLEANS, LA
NEW VOICES IN TAX POLICY AND PUBLIC FINANCE
(co-sponsored by the Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law and Section on Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation)

The AALS Section on Taxation is pleased to announce the following Call for Papers. Selected papers will be presented at a works-in-progress session at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA from January 2-6, 2019. The works-in-progress session is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, January 5.

Eligibility: Scholars teaching at AALS member schools or non-member fee-paid schools with seven or fewer years of full-time teaching experience as of the submission deadline are eligible to submit papers. For co-authored papers, both authors must satisfy the eligibility criteria.

Due Date: 5 pm, Wednesday, August 8, 2018.

Form and Content of submission: We welcome drafts of academic articles in the areas of taxation, tax policy, public finance, and related fields. We will consider drafts that have not yet been submitted for publication consideration as well as drafts that have been submitted for publication consideration or that have secured publication offers. However, drafts may not have been published at the time of the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting (January 2019). We welcome legal scholarship across a wide variety of methodological approaches, including empirical, doctrinal, socio-legal, critical, comparative, economic, and other approaches.

Submission method: Papers should be submitted electronically as Microsoft Word documents to the following email address: tax.section.cfp@gmail.com by 5 pm on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. The subject line should read “AALS Tax Section CFP Submission.” By submitting a paper for consideration, you agree to attend the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting Works-in-Progress Session should your paper be selected for presentation.

Submission review: Papers will be selected after review by the AALS Tax Section Committee and representatives from co-sponsoring committees. Authors whose papers are selected for presentation will be notified by Thursday, September 28, 2018.

Additional information: Call-for-Papers presenters will be responsible for paying their own AALS registration fee, hotel, and travel expenses. Inquiries about the Call for Papers should be submitted to: AALS Tax Section Chair, Professor Shu-Yi Oei, Boston College Law School, oeis@bc.edu.

Call for Papers: “Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy”

By: Diane Ring

Last October, the international conference “Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy” was held in Amsterdam. I blogged about the two-day event that explored a wide range of legal, business and social issues here and here.  The call for papers for the Fall 2018 conference (October 25 & 26, 2018, Amsterdam) has just been issued:

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PyeongChang 2018!

I love the Olympics. Like, a lot. I mean, I realize that hosting the Olympics is basically a gigantic financial sinkhole. And I understand that the Olympics aren’t part of a massive geopolitical power struggle anymore. But the athleticism! the competition! the near-perfect score on a third run, after you lost a ski on your first two! I love it.

And, of course, I love the tax aspect to the Olympics, a tax aspect that has changed significantly for the last two. See, medalists don’t just get a valuable medal and an adorable stuffed tiger: the U.S. Olympic Committee pays Olympians $37,500 for a gold, $22,500 for a silver, and $15,000 for a bronze.

And, since the Rio Olympics in 2016, (most) medalists don’t have to pay taxes on that prize money. Continue reading “PyeongChang 2018!”

IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Glogower, “Taxing Inequality”

IMG_4720b
Left to right: Damage Gamage, Ari Glogower, Leandra Lederman, Tim Riffle

By: Leandra Lederman

On February 15, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law welcomed Prof. Ari Glogower from Ohio State University Moritz College of Law as the third speaker of the year in our Tax Policy Colloquium. Ari presented his paper titled “Taxing Inequality,” which argues in favor of a federal wealth tax and proposes a mechanism for integrating the base of such a tax with the base of the federal income tax. Ari’s paper sparked a really interesting discussion both in and outside the workshop on a wide range of issues, from distributive justice to the mechanics and likely impacts of his proposal.

The paper focused first on why we should have a federal tax on wealth. The draft points to rising economic inequality, and it grounds the need for a wealth tax in the theory of “relative economic power.” That theory, borrowed from political science, focuses on spending power—as opposed to actual spending—as a source of economic power. The basic idea is that the mere ownership pf wealth creates economic power without spending it. Moreover, “excessively unequal distributions of economic resources and market power can result in unequal divisions of political and social power as well.” (p.19) One of Ari’s paper’s contributions is to apply this economic-power theory as a justification for a progressive tax system.

The draft then describes the problem that tax-system designers have in imposing both a wealth tax and an income tax. Because the two types of taxes are imposed on different bases, if the taxes are not coordinated, taxpayers with very different abilities to pay based on their income or wealth may be taxed identically. The paper includes some nice examples of taxpayers with the same income but vastly different stocks of wealth and vice versa. It shows, for example, that a taxpayer with $200,000 of current income and no wealth (or negative wealth in the form of student-loan debt) has lower ability to pay than a taxpayer with $200,000 of current income and $35 million in wealth. (Ari’s talk included a great slide featuring an image of Scrooge McDuck swimming in money as the wealthy taxpayer, but for whatever reason, he resisted our suggestion to rename the paper “Taxing Scrooge McDuck”!) Continue reading “IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Glogower, “Taxing Inequality””

Taxing R2-D2? ABA Tax Section Panel on Automation and AI

Kerry Ryan
Associate Professor
St. Louis University School of Law

I had the pleasure of attending the midyear meeting of the ABA Tax Section this past weekend in San Diego. The Tax Policy & Simplification committee organized an interesting panel entitled: “Taxing R2-D2: How Should We Think About the Taxation of Robots and AI.” The panel was organized and moderated by Surly’s own Leandra Lederman, and panelists included Shu-Yi Oei (Boston College), Roberta Mann (Oregon Law), and Robert Kovacev (Steptoe & Johnson LLP).

For those of you who read Shu-Yi’s post, you know that she is “deeply skeptical” of the “robot tax” frame. At best, it is misleading—no one is attempting to impose a tax on a “robot” (whatever that is?) per se. As Robert Kovacev succinctly put it: “robots don’t pay taxes, people pay taxes.” The key question is which people: owners, workers, and/or consumers? Roberta linked this question to the long-standing debate about who ultimately bears the burden of the corporate income tax.

At worst, the “robot tax” terminology captures (and perhaps amplifies) the fear (“the robots are coming!”) and angst driving much of this discussion. The underlying concern relates to the potential negative impact on labor of increased utilization of technology/artificial intelligence (AI)/automation in the production process. Experts disagree about whether, over the longer term, automation will reduce the number, or merely the type, of human workers. The unanswered question is whether this is just the next in a long line of technological shifts in the economy dating as far back as the Industrial Revolution, or whether AI/machine learning truly represents a technological tipping point.

What is clear is that the transition to this new automated workplace may lead to worker displacement (particularly for those in manual/routine jobs). Mass unemployment could negatively impact the tax base—fewer workers mean fewer taxpayers. Notice that any revenue loss would hit at the same time as funding demands increased for re-training and/or social protection programs (existing and/or proposed universal basic income) for displaced workers.

Assuming you believe there is a problem(s), what is the policy prescription? While most of the panelists agreed that tax has a role to play here, they disagreed as to the contours of that role. Should we plug the hole in the income tax base by shifting more of the tax burden onto capital, as opposed to labor? Do we attempt to tax work completed by robots in the same manner as comparable work by employees (see Bill Gates proposal)? Should we raise the overall level of taxation (under existing or new tax structures)? Do we view automation as imposing negative externalities on the labor market and impose some type of Pigouvian tax? Should we attempt to slow the pace of technological development, rather than workplace implementation, by reducing either direct funding or tax incentives for R&D and innovation (see South Korea)?

Many interesting questions with no easy answers. At the very least, we must resist allowing zeitgeist to drive the policy response, while at the same time affirming the legitimacy of the underlying concerns and working to minimize their negative consequences on workers and their families.