On Disclosure

As you may have heard, there’s a Presidential campaign going on. I try hard to avoid politics in this blog, but one story that came out relates to Donald Trump taking a Net Operating Loss (NOL) on his tax return. Mr. Trump’s former accountant, Jack Mitnick, has talked to the media regarding the returns he prepared for Mr. Trump back in the 1990s. Is Mr. Mitnick supposed to talk about the returns he prepared?

Let’s start with the rules on returns I prepare. Suppose I get a phone call from the Las Vegas Review-Journal asking about a return I prepared for John Smith, a hypothetical client. Mr. Smith is running for office here in Nevada, and the Review-Journal has a copy of his 2008 tax return. I could neither tell the RJ I prepared the return nor could I tell them I didn’t prepare the return.

IRS Circular 230 governs the practice of tax professionals. Tax professionals are to keep client relationships confidential unless the client has authorized me to disclose the information. I’m also a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agents; NAEA rules also require that client relationships be confidential. That’s why when a mortgage company calls me and says that they want confirmation that I prepared the tax returns for Mr. Smith my response is, “Have Mr. Smith call me. If I prepared his returns, I will have him sign a ‘Consent to Disclosure’ notice that authorizes me to disclose information to you (should he wish me to do so).” An IRS regulation requires that the Consent to Disclosure be on my letterhead; thus, I can’t accept the ones that mortgage companies have clients sign. But I digress….

Mr. Mitnick is, of course, retired. He appears not to care about Circular 230 or confidentiality. Still, I think it’s wrong for him to say anything about clients (and former clients). When I retire–and for current clients, no worries, that’s many years down the road (I hope)–I don’t think it’s right for me to author a ‘tell-all’ book about my clients or talk to the media about them. The confidentiality rules should apply for as long as I’m around.

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