March 22, 2017
GEORGE K. YIN, gy8a [at] eservices.virginia.edu
Available for a limited number of interviews, Yin is the Edwin S. Cohen Distinguished Professor of Law and Taxation at the University of Virginia. He is a former chief of staff of the U.S. Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.
He has just written the paper “Congressional Authority to Obtain And Release Tax Returns,” which states: “President Trump’s continuing refusal to release his tax returns despite the contrary common practice of presidents over the last 40 years has spurred interest in finding alternative ways to obtain the information. This article describes the authority of Congress, under section 6103(f)(1) and (4)(A), to obtain, inspect, and disclose the confidential tax information of any taxpayer, including the president, without the taxpayer’s consent. The authority may be exercised by any one of three tax committees: the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
“Congress added the authority to the law in 1924. … Several matters, including two involving possible conflicts of interest, helped bring the separation-of-powers imbalance to Congress’s attention. During that period, Congress was investigating the Teapot Dome scandal — the alleged bribery of government officials in exchange for the leasing of public oil fields to private interests. As part of its investigation, Congress sought from President Coolidge the tax returns of the alleged principals involved in the scandal, but the president initially resisted the request. Although Coolidge ultimately acceded, the experience undoubtedly made Congress aware of its need to be able to obtain tax information even without the president’s permission.
“Another matter concerned possible conflicts involving former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who continued to own many business interests while serving in government. Some in Congress wanted to obtain Mellon’s tax information to learn how his interests would be affected by tax legislation that Treasury was proposing to Congress.”