The Year in Review ...
It’s been a little over a year since the Center for Taxpayer Rights (CTR) began operations, and what a year it has been! As we bring 2020 to an end (and not a moment too soon) I thought it might be a good time to give a not-so-short update on the Center’s activities over the last sixteen months. And of course, I hope you will support the Center’s activities in the field of taxpayer rights.
International Conference on Taxpayer Rights
With respect to the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, because of the pandemic we now have two conferences scheduled for 2021 – one in May 2021 which we are hoping we can physically convene in Athens, Greece, and one in October 2021, in Pretoria, South Africa (which was originally scheduled for this past October). The theme of the Athens conference is Quality Tax Audits and the Protection of Fundamental Rights; its agenda will be published in early January. The theme of the Pretoria conference is Taxpayer Rights, Human Rights: Issues for Developing Countries; that agenda is up for viewing on our website. Both of the 2021 conferences will be live-streamed, so we can expand our reach, not just because of the pandemic but also because we want more folks, including those from developing countries, young scholars, and students, to be able to participate, albeit virtually.
Because we had to postpone the 2020 Pretoria conference, we decided to launch Tax Chat!, a free monthly online series of conversations between myself and guests from an array of disciplines who are working in the field of tax and tax administration. So far, we’ve had four Tax Chats! In 2020, our topics included:
- the International Observatory on the Protection of Taxpayer Rights with Professor Pasquale Pistone and Philip Baker, QC;
- Taxpayer Rights, Human Rights, and Achieving Sustainable Development Goals with Professors Riel Franzsen and Annet Oguttu, and Asha Ramgobin;
- the Anthropology of Tax with Lotta Bjorklund Larsen, Johanna Mugler, and Nimmo Elmi; and
- the Economic Psychology of Taxpayer Behavior with Professor Erich Kirchler.
All of the Tax Chats! are recorded; you can access them on the Center’s YouTube channel. We have some very interesting ones scheduled for 2021, with topics ranging from international Low Income Taxpayer Clinics; gender and taxation; artificial intelligence and digital taxation; another round of the Anthropology of Tax; and tax transparency.
Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Support Center
The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Support Center supports and encourages the expansion of Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) domestically and internationally. The idea for the LITC Support Center borrows on the U.S. practice in other areas of poverty law, which have established national support centers, including the National Consumer Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center, and the National Homelessness Law Center. An LITC Advisory Board, drawn from the diverse LITC community and including representatives of academic, legal aid, and community-based LITCs, advises the Center on the type of support or research activities that LITCs could benefit from, including the development of training for new volunteers and conducting surveys to determine the needs of low income taxpayers.
To promote LITCs internationally, as part of the 5th International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, we will holding a half-day workshop on LITCs, including panels on establishing an LITC and LITC casework, systemic advocacy, and litigation. The program will be held the afternoon of May 26th, immediately before the convening of the conference; and yes, it will be live-streamed so anyone with an interest in LITCs can participate.
Taxpayer Rights Litigation and Amicus Briefs
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the LITC Support Center’s U.S. activities is the establishment of the CTR Litigation Strategy Group. This group, with about forty members, meets weekly to discuss ongoing casework and litigation and to identify areas of law affecting low income taxpayers that might be ripe for challenge. The goal of the CTR Litigation Strategy Group is to help the LITCs operate along the lines of a national law firm, working together in the federal courts to litigate taxpayer rights and other issues affecting low income taxpayers. We started by focusing on aspects of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s implementation of COVID-related Economic Impact Payments, which drew several significant challenges, including on behalf of incarcerated individuals; US citizen spouses and children of undocumented persons; and federal beneficiaries with dependent children. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in many of these cases are members of the CTR Litigation Strategy Group. For 2021, we are identifying and developing potential procedural due process challenges in tax litigation.
The Center is committed to raising taxpayer rights issues in the courts via amicus curiae briefs; it and LITCs are particularly well-situated to explain the impact of various holdings on low and moderate income taxpayers, analyses and consequences that might not otherwise be raised in litigation. This past year, the Harvard Law School Federal Tax Clinic filed four amicus briefs on behalf of the Center for Taxpayer Rights, including one in the United States Supreme Court and one in a successful class action suit on behalf of incarcerated individuals who were barred by the US government from receiving Covid-related economic impact payments. You can read our amicus briefs here.
The Year Ahead ...
As you can see, we have lots planned for 2021. In addition to two International Conferences on Taxpayer Rights, ongoing Tax Chats!, and the Litigation Strategy Group, the Center will be developing and programming a nationwide Pro Bono LITC Referral Network – a “dating app” for LITCs that need volunteers to represent taxpayers on a pro bono basis, or who can mentor or train others in tax representation and litigation issues. We are hoping that eventually this software can be used by LITCs worldwide as they seek to expand their scope of activity and incorporate pro bono representation into their work.
Please help us further our work in the field of taxpayer rights by donating today!
In the meantime, on behalf of myself and the Center’s Board of Directors, all our best wishes for a safe and happy new year!
Nina E. Olson