It seems that the obsession to obtain our president’s tax returns is still alive and well among certain democrats and members of the media. Some democrats say that Trump must turn over his returns based on an “obscure 1924 law” that gives the House Ways and Means committee the right to review anyone’s tax returns. One argument I have heard multiple times is that the Ways and Means committee can obtain the returns and then vote to release them to the public. The Trump administration has made various arguments claiming that there are other laws which override the request from the House Ways and Means Committee.
I’m certainly not a constitutional law expert, so I won’t attempt to comment on the administrations arguments, but I am familiar with tax law. The “obscure 1924 law” that the democrats are referring to is currently known as Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code. The general rule that the IRS must follow is that tax return information is confidential and cannot be shared with anyone for any reason. Exceptions to that general rule are found in Section 6103. If Section 6103 overrides any other laws, then the democrats are partially correct. IRC Section 6103 (f) gives 3 congressional committees the authority to review any tax return. However, at the end of IRC 6103(f)(1) it reads ” only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure. ” So there are 3 committees that have the authority to review any tax return in closed executive session, but they do not have the authority to release any return information without the written consent of the taxpayer.
Personally, there are many things I think are more important than finding out what is on President’Trump’s tax returns. However, one positive thing I see in this whole debate is that apparently the IRS takes it’s mission to protect the confidentiality of private tax information very seriously. In recent years we have seen numerous leaks of information from congress, the executive branch and the nations top law enforcement agencies. But to date, no one at the IRS has leaked the private tax information of the president, in spite of the public outcry for that information. At least in this area, the IRS is doing it’s job well.