Bush Taxman Calls for Making Corporate Returns Public

In an op-ed in Saturday’s Washington

Post, former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson offered an interesting short-order

proposal to respond to the financial crisis. Along the way, he articulated a

rebuke to the sanctity of corporations that one might not expect to hear from a

former Bush administration official.

To increase businesses’ transparency, "a proper starting

point is to make corporate tax returns available to the public, not just to the

IRS," wrote Everson, who served as commissioner of the IRS from 2003 to 2007,

following a six-month stint as a deputy director of the Office of Management

and Budget.

Because tax returns include "important information about

corporations beyond that available in financial statements," Everson said that making

such information public would assist state and federal regulators as well as

financial analysts. Surprisingly, Everson wrote, the IRS is prohibited from

sharing corporate tax information even with the Securities & Exchange

Commission or Justice Department "except in narrow circumstances."

Perhaps the most compelling part of Everson’s column was his

response to critics who would undoubtedly argue that "corporations, like individuals,

have a right to privacy." In his column, Everson

explained that corporations deserve to be treated differently because they

receive special treatment. "Corporations need not automatically enjoy the same

rights as individuals," Everson wrote. "Their owners are shielded from

liability, which is implicitly shifted to others, as recent events

demonstrate."

Everson concluded by proposing that "at a minimum," the

companies receiving bailouts should be required to make their returns public. "After all, Americans routinely provide copies of their federal tax returns to

financial institutions before they give us money," he wrote. "Shouldn’t

entities looking for taxpayers’ help do the same?"