Taxpayer Bill of Rights  

II. Explanation of the Bill

Title I. Executive Branch Governance & Management of the IRS
F. Prohibition on Executive Branch Influence Over Taxpayer Audits

(Sec. 1105 of the Bill and new Sec. 7217 of the Code)

Present Law

There is no explicit prohibition in the Code on high-level Executive Branch influence over taxpayer audits and collection activity.

The Internal Revenue Code prohibits disclosure of tax returns and return information, except to the extent specifically authorized by the Internal Revenue Code (Sec. 6103). Unauthorized disclosure is a felony punishable by a fine not exceeding $5,000 or imprisonment of not more than five years, or both (Sec. 7213). An action for civil damages also may be brought for unauthorized disclosure (Sec. 7431).

Reasons for Change

The Committee believes that the perception that it is possible that high-level Executive Branch influence over taxpayer audits and collection activity could occur has a negative influence on taxpayers' views of the tax system. Accordingly, the Committee believes that it is appropriate to prohibit such influence.

Explanation of Provision

The bill makes it unlawful for a specified person to request that any officer or employee of the IRS conduct or terminate an audit or otherwise investigate or terminate the investigation of any particular taxpayer with respect to the tax liability of that taxpayer. The prohibition applies to the President, the Vice President, and employees of the executive offices of either the President or Vice President, as well as any individual (except the Attorney General) serving in a position specified in section 5312 of Title 5 of the United States Code (these are generally Cabinet-level positions). The prohibition applies to both direct requests and requests made through an intermediary. In the case of a law enforcement action authorized by the Attorney General, discussions involving specified persons with respect to that law enforcement action shall not be considered to be requests made through an intermediary.

Any request made in violation of this rule must be reported by the IRS employee to whom the request was made to the Chief Inspector of the IRS. The Chief Inspector has the authority to investigate such violations and to refer any violations to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution, as appropriate. Anyone convicted of violating this provision will be punished by imprisonment of not more than 5 years or a fine not exceeding $5,000 (or both).

Three exceptions to the general prohibition apply. First, the prohibition does not apply to a request made to a specified person by or on behalf of a taxpayer that is forwarded by the specified person to the IRS. This exception is intended to cover two types of situations. The first situation is where a taxpayer (or a taxpayer's representative) writes to a specified person seeking assistance in resolving a difficulty with the IRS. This exception permits the specified person who receives such a request to forward it to the IRS for resolution without violating the general prohibition. The second situation that this first exception is intended to cover is an audit or investigation by the IRS of a Presidential nominee. Under present law (Sec. 6103(c)), nominees for Presidentially appointed positions consent to disclosure of their tax returns and return information so that background checks may be conducted. Sometimes an audit or other investigation is initiated as part of that background check. The Committee anticipates that any such audit or investigation that is part of such a background check will be encompassed within this first exception.

The second exception to the general prohibition applies to requests for disclosure of returns or return information under section 6103 if the request is made in accordance with the requirements of section 6103.

The third exception to the general prohibition applies to requests made by the Secretary of the Treasury as a consequence of the implementation of a change in tax policy.

Effective Date

The provision applies to violations occurring after the date of enactment.

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