Thursday, March 12, 2009

RIP Donald Alexander - IRS commissioner in the -70s

Donald Alexander IRS commissioner from 1973 to 1977 died Tuesday of cancer. Alexander served when the agency came under severe public scrutiny for its earlier role in investigating political opponents and radicals on the far right and left. A prominent tax lawyer when he took the IRS job, he learned the day after his swearing-in of a secret band of IRS investigators who combed through the tax returns of 3,000 "notorious" groups and 8,000 individuals.

Within three months, he ordered the unit disbanded, saying that political views "extremist or otherwise, are irrelevant to taxation," he wrote in a 1999 editorial for the publication Tax Notes. "The evening of the same day, President Nixon made his first effort to fire me."

Alexander alerted then Treasury Secretary George Shultz in the early 1970s that Nixon's name came up for an audit under the agency's randomized process. The president was reported by Al Haig to be "up the wall over this -- the IRS never audits a president."

Alexander proved that many previous presidents had been audited, and the Nixon audit went forward. It turned up a number of irregularities, which were leaked to the press and led to a special prosecutor's investigation. In the end, it was determined that the president owed more than $400,000 in back taxes and penalties. Whole story at the LA Times.

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