The IRS' FOIA Problem

UPDATE: IRS denies White House has asked for tax returns

October 3, 2012

Cause of Action filed a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service Tuesday over a Freedom of Information Act request.

The government watchdog group filed suit after the IRS denied its request for the names of individuals whose tax returns the Obama White House has accessed.

"The public has a right to know … whose tax records the president has been looking at," Karen Groen, Cause of Actions’s chief oversight counsel, told the Free Beacon.

Groen said that Cause of Action initially filed the request in March and "went through the whole administrative process," but they were still stymied, which left no recourse but a lawsuit.

Cause of Action filed the request under the Freedom of Information Act which, according to the IRS’s website, "gives any person the right to access federal agency records or information."

The IRS denied the request, citing an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act that requires agencies to withhold information that is "specifically exempted from disclosure by another law."

Tax returns are considered confidential, Groen explained, and the IRS rightfully withholds tax returns from the public. However, Cause of Action is not requesting actual tax returns—just a list of the individuals whose tax returns the president has requested.

"Treating these requests as part of someone’s tax records is taking it too far," Groen said.

Groen expressed dismay at the administration’s refusal to reveal whose tax returns they have accessed.

"This administration has pledged to be the most transparent in history," but they are refusing to turn over this information, she said.

The IRS did not return a request for comment.

UPDATE 4:30 P.M. Wednesday, October 3: The IRS provided the Free Beacon with the following statement:

The IRS does not comment on pending litigation.

However, the IRS can confirm that no requests were made, and no tax returns or return information have been disclosed under Internal Revenue Code 6103 (g) during the period in question.

Federal law provides under Internal Revenue Code 6103 (g) a provision for the President of the United States to request and receive federal tax return information.

6103(g)1 states:

Upon written request by the President, signed by him personally, the Secretary shall furnish to the President, or to such employee or employees of the White House Office as the President may designate by name in such request, a return or return information with respect to any taxpayer named in such request.