The Internal Revenue Service demands transparency when its agents conduct audits. They open ledgers, snoop through bank accounts, and review receipts. But its appetite for disclosure disappears when the roles reverse.
The IRS stonewalled for more than six years when our public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice, sought access to the agency’s forfeiture database. Initially, the IRS wanted $750,000 in fees before it would accommodate the request—an unreasonable demand that would render the Freedom of Information Act useless for all but the wealthiest citizens.
Once in court, the IRS attempted a bait and switch. Rather than provide the actual data, it released a summary report that was 99 percent redacted. It then declared that it had gone above and beyond the legal requirements. The ruse worked at the district court level, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against the agency in 2019. After a second trip to the district court, the IRS finally coughed up the full database in April 2022.
For anyone without a law degree or the resources to endure a long legal battle, the message from the IRS is clear: Do not try this at home. Accountability is good for the taxpayer, but not for the tax collector.