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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?"

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