History of Tax Analysts
Tax Analysts was established to defend the public interest in a policy arena shot through with private influence.Initially, the organization pursued its mission through a diverse program of research, lobbying, litigation, and publishing. By the end of its first decade, however, Tax Analysts had become the nation’s leading provider of unbiased tax information, its publications serving as a forum for evenhanded debate of contentious policy issues.
Tax Analysts was founded in 1970 by Thomas F. Field, a former Treasury lawyer and tax expert. The organization quickly assumed a prominent role in the policy process, offering congressional testimony, publishing newspaper opinion articles, and preparing analyses of key policy issues. Early studies — including reports on the taxation of capital gains, export subsidies embedded in the tax system, and Social Security financing — found their way to a broad audience, chiefly through the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and through other mainstream media outlets.
Uncovering the Paper TrailTax Analysts had been created to foster free, open, and informed debate about taxation. But productive debate requires adequate information, and federal tax authorities were determined to keep some of the most important information under wraps.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Tax Analysts fought for access to key documents in tax policy and administration. In 1972 the organization sued the Internal Revenue Service for access to private letter rulings (PLRs) and technical advice memoranda (TAMs) — crucial guidance documents providing legal advice to specific taxpayers and IRS field agents. Over the years, this guidance had become a sort of “secret law” whereby the IRS cut private deals with particular taxpayers and then refused to make the terms public. This practice left other taxpayers at a disadvantage, since the IRS relied on existing guidance when deciding subsequent cases. At the same time, it gave an unfair advantage to a few large law and accounting firms that had joined forces to create a private library of these undisclosed materials.
The courts gave Tax Analysts access to PLRs, and Congress soon required public disclosure of TAMs as well. Those victories were vital, providing the foundation for 30 years of subsequent litigation in defense of disclosure and tax transparency.
Publishing the Paper TrailIn 1972 Tax Analysts began publishing Tax Notes, a weekly journal of news, commentary, and policy analysis. Distributed free of charge to policymakers, reporters, and scholars, it quickly became the journal of record in the tax policy community.
Meanwhile, however, Tax Analysts confronted a financial hurdle. Initial support had come from more than 10 charitable foundations, but after a few years, those funds were almost exhausted. In 1975 the organization was forced to lay off three-quarters of its small staff, and Field told The Wall Street Journal he was girding for “a very, very rough year.”
But Tax Notes continued to find an eager audience, and in the fall of 1974 Tax Analysts began charging for the magazine. Subscription revenue provided a reliable source of funds, and the magazine’s success — both journalistic and financial — helped redefine its parent organization.
By the late 1970s Tax Analysts had embraced its journalistic mission. The organization developed a recognizable newsroom, with a stable of editors and writers, including Capitol Hill correspondents. It also broadened its focus to include international and state issues, introducing Tax Notes International in 1989 and State Tax Notes in 1991. All the organization’s publications welcomed contributions from experts across the political spectrum, confident that that vibrant debate would foster better tax policy.
Challenges and OpportunitiesIn the late 1990s Tax Analysts faced a series of challenges. First, tax publishing had become highly competitive, making it harder to support the organization with subscription revenue. Second, technological change forced continual innovation, as publishers experimented with new types of electronic publishing. Third, the quickening pace of globalization raised the stakes for international tax publishing, creating new markets even as it demanded new investments. And finally, Field stepped down in 2001.
For a thinly capitalized, nonprofit publisher, any one of these challenges would have been reason for concern. Together they posed a daunting prospect. Tax Analysts responded by restructuring. Under the guidance of its new president, former Tax Notes Editor Christopher Bergin, the organization cut costs where possible and made new investments when necessary. As a result, the organization continued to grow in both size and scope.
But even as Tax Analysts prospered, it remained committed to its public interest mission: providing timely, accurate, impartial information about taxation, while fostering informed debate about key policy issues. The organization also established a high-level conference series, inviting leading experts and key policymakers to debate tax issues in a public forum.
Concerned that a persistent penchant for official secrecy was threatening to erode past victories in the battle for transparency, Tax Analysts redoubled its disclosure efforts. With support from an array of like-minded organizations, Tax Analysts continued to push for greater openness in the making and administration of federal tax law.
In 2006 Tax Analysts moved to a new headquarters building in Falls Church, Va. It was more than simply a change in scenery; the new building marked the start of a new era for the organization. From its origins as a tiny nonprofit operating on a shoestring budget, Tax Analysts had grown to become a global publisher of tax information, with correspondents in more than 125 countries, more than $20 million in annual revenue, and a full-time headquarters staff of almost 200 employees.
Tax Analysts is poised to advance its mission further still, driving the debate but not the agenda for tax policy around the world. The organization remains committed to the notion that vibrant debate — supported by comprehensive, unbiased information — will help foster tax systems that are fair, simple, and economically efficient.
Tax Analysts and FOIA
In its mission to foster informed debate on federal, state and international tax policy, Tax Analysts has employed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a tool for improving the transparency of tax rules.