Back in June I wrote disapprovingly of some actions of the Donald J. Trump Foundation. In that piece I promised to write about the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation too. Recently, Rep. Marsha Blackburn sent a letter that was scheduled to be sent to the FBI, the FTC, and the IRS. That letter makes a number of allegations about the misuse of the Clinton Foundation, and I figured these allegations would be a good place to analyze the performance of the Foundation that I had promised.
Blackburn alleges a number of things, but I am going to focus on her first allegation in this post because it is the only one that is a pure tax exemption question. She alleges that the Foundation is illegally operating outside the scope of its initial application for tax exemption to the IRS. For reasons explained in the post below, I conclude there is very little involved in this claim and it is a misunderstanding of the law. There could be problems with the Foundation but this is not one of them.
UPDATE: I look at the remaining two Rep. Blackburn allegations here.
The news yesterday was focused in part on the fact that in 2013 the Florida AG Pam Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump. And, shortly thereafter the Donald J. Trump Foundation (“Foundation”) made a $25,000 contribution to a political organization called And Justice for All that supported the reelection effort of Pam Bondi for AG of Florida. Bondi’s office ultimately dropped any investigation into Trump University. Bondi denies the allegation that she ended an investigation in exchange for a political contribution. She says her office was never investigating Trump U in the first place. She does acknowledge, however, that her political organization should not have accepted the donation from a charitable foundation. She claims she tried to refund the contribution in March.
The claims against the AG are obviously a serious issue and should be looked at, but I of course see things through a bit of blinders. I see a nonprofit behaving badly. The level of negligence here and misuse of a private foundation frankly drives me crazy. As discussed below, the Foundation’s excuse is that it made a mistake and did not know what it had done. In this post I examine all of the tax code violations involved, and I look at the Foundation’s excuse and try to assess whether it is believable and whether it matters. Continue reading “Should the IRS Penalize Trump Foundation Political Contribution?”→
I was given a heads up yesterday about new legislation requiring disclosure of a presidential candidate’s tax returns (thanks Janet Novack). In the wake of our coverage of the tax issues related to the presidential race, it is worth mentioning the legislation proposed by Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
According to the press release: “‘Since the days of Watergate, the American people have had an expectation that nominees to be the leader of the free world not hide their finances and personal tax returns,’said Wyden.
“The Presidential Tax Transparency Act says that within 15 days of becoming the nominee at the party convention, the candidate must release their most recent 3 years of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Should the candidate refuse to comply, the Treasury Secretary will provide the tax returns directly to the FEC for public release.”
A summary of the bill is here and the full text is here.
As an initial matter, I am in favor of codifying a rule requiring the disclosure of tax returns if you a candidate for president on any State’s ballot. As I read the legislation, there seem to be major problems with the language of the statute. This makes me think that the legislation is more of a publicity stunt then a force for meaningful change.
Today, Paul Caron in his TaxProf Blog, highlighted an article by John McGinnis (a Constitutional Law Scholar at Northwestern). In the article, McGinnis states that Trump should not have to disclose his income tax returns. His premise is that the norm of tax return disclosure is “bad.” He believes that privacy norms should trump any right of the electorate to see a candidates taxes. I vehemently disagree with this normative position. I hesitate to write a “hot take” or half-baked reaction to the article. But there is dangerous precedent failing to highlight the error(s) in McGinnis’ position. (I am under the assumption that McGinnis had limited space to write his opinion and nuance he would normally make is lost to space constraints).
I, as well as others such as, Joe Thorndike, have previously made the point that tax return disclosure is very important. In my Forbes article, I made the point of a variety of reason tax return disclosure is very important. I said, “First, tax returns can be a window to understanding how someone truly thinks and behaves; what you do when you think the public isn’t looking, shows the more authentic self. (Hillary Clinton’s tax return is arguably less revealing, since she has long known her returns would be made public.) Trump’s tax filings might provide some additional insight into how he would run the country. Does he follow rules? Stake out very aggressive positions? Take unnecessary risks?” I think how people act in private is the best proxy for understanding what they think. With a candidate like Trump, this may be the only window into how a Trump presidency would look like.
Nearly two months ago, guesting on Prawfsblawg, I wrote about the state of the presidential candidates’ disclosure of their tax returns. Since then, they’ve gone through several more primaries, and we have a better idea of where each candidate stands in the electorate. So, as the semester winds up and my focus shifts to grading, I thought I’d warm up by grading the candidates on their level of tax disclosure.
A caveat before we begin: as tax historian Joseph Thorndike has noted (here and 150 Tax Notes 591 (2016)), while there’s a strong norm for candidates’ releasing their tax returns (consistently since 1980, and sporadically for at least a decade before that), they are under no legal obligation to do so. If we really care about seeing candidates’ tax returns, we should encourage Congress to make disclosure mandatory.