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Reader comment on: The Tax Notes Fight Heats Up

Submitted by David Cay Johnston (United States), Apr 12, 2010 14:57

As I noted earlier. Tax Notes licenses no-free reprints, runs free tax sites like and the Tax History Project, finances very expensive litigation that has made the IRS much more open and accountable.

That is just part of its public benefit activities that have benefitted every single taxpayer in the country.

And it used to offer journalists a discounted subscription and may still (perhaps that is for the electronic product). It is also available on Nexis, which many libraries subscribe to in bulk. Many readers, by the way, are professors, policy specialists and government officials, including tax law enforcement.

By Stoll's standard no university can charge tuition, no nonprofit theater can charge $60 for seats, no YMCA $100 a month for membership in the gym, no nonprofit day care provider $100 a week to care for children and no hospital tens of thousands of dollars for emergency room services (as I was once billed for what turned out to be a big nothing). In short, Stoll's point above is baseless as a matter of fact a matter of law and a matter of well-established public policy.

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The Future of Capitalism replies:

I already anticipated and addressed this point about college tuitions and non-profit hospitals here: . "Mr. Cottrell made the case that Harvard is a non-profit, and it charges tuition of tens of thousands of dollars a year. But Harvard also offers financial aid scholarships to those who can't afford tuition. Non-profit hospitals that charge for expensive surgeries also offer charity care to those who can't pay. That's why they are non-profits."

Tax Notes's position is that you either pay the $2,000, or you are out of luck. If Harvard or a non-profit hospital tried that, the Senate Finance Committee or the IRS would be on their case faster than you can say audit.

The "very expensive" litigation Mr. Johnston refers to is a tiny fraction of its activities. If he would read his own employer's Form 990, he would see that its public interest litigation expenses were $159,413, offset by an award of $113,214, for "net public interest expenses of $46,217." This in an organization with $22 million in revenue.

If some PR guy tried this kind of defense, Mr. Johnston would be all over him, and rightfully so. But when it's his own employer being scrutinized, different standards apply.

I asked Mr. Cottrell about a media discount and he said there was none.

The fact that government officials read it is no consolation at all to me -- it's yet a fifth way that my tax dollars are subsidizing my tax-exempt competitors, by using money they get in taxes from me to buy subscriptions to Mr. Johnston's tax exempt employer so that they can find out tax news that ordinary Americans can't afford to learn about.

Again, if the point of the organization is public service, why not take the $21,000 in deferred compensation paid to Tax Analysts employees who were paid more than $160,000 a year each before the deferred comp and use that money to give free access to the information in public libraries? Or at least, if you aren't willing to do that, stop with the self-righteousness about public service, education and democracy. What's the purpose, really, educating the public or enriching the empoloyees?

Other reader comments on this item

Title By Date
Why does their income matter
[w/response] [190 words]
ChrisApr 13, 2010 03:36
⇒ public service
[w/response] [187 words]
David Cay JohnstonApr 12, 2010 14:57
Ask the people turned away from Harvard and hospitals
[w/response] [98 words]
ChrisApr 13, 2010 03:43

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