May 7, 2013
by James Jatras
Treasury Department’s Promises of U.S. FATCA IGA ‘Reciprocity’ Dead
In a major game-changer, Senator Rand Paul (Republican of Kentucky) today introduced a bill (S.887) to repeal mandates of the “Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act” (FATCA) on financial institutions and individual American citizens as a “violation of sovereign nations’ laws and privacy matters.” In a letter to his Senate colleagues, Dr. Paul pulled no punches about the destructive effects of the FATCA law and the unsupportable claims that FATCA is a legitimate tool to combat tax evasion:
“I intend to offer a bill to repeal certain provisions of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA (P.L. 111-147). The intent of this law was to prevent tax evasion by increasing access to overseas bank accounts held by U.S. citizens. However, any law enforcement benefits have been vastly outweighed by the deleterious effects of FATCA on economic growth and the financial privacy of Americans.
“FATCA requires the financial institutions of foreign countries to register directly with the IRS, and to provide financial information on the accounts of U.S. citizens – regardless of whether or not these U.S. citizens are suspected of tax evasion. A failure to comply with these requirements subjects that foreign financial institution (FFI) to a 30% withholding of U.S.-derived revenues. This has had the practical effect of forcing FFIs to relinquish any association with American customers, and to avoid direct investment in the United States. It goes without saying that overseas investment in the U.S. is an important engine of our economic growth and prosperity. FATCA endangers an estimated $25 trillion in foreign capital currently invested in the U.S.
“Perhaps even more troubling, the implementation of FATCA has allowed the Treasury Department to make independent decisions with respect to the sovereignty of foreign nations and the privacy of United States citizens. In order to implement this law, Treasury has initiated intergovernmental agreements (IGAs), citing the intent to engage in reciprocal information sharing with other nations. The Treasury Department, without the consent and authority of Congress, will force U.S. financial institutions to provide the bank account information of private customers to foreign nations. Such a requirement not only diminishes U.S. privacy protections, but also imposes billions of dollars in compliance costs here at home, which will be passed onto customers and the American public.
“My bill is drafted with the intention of removing only FATCA provisions that undermine Americans’ constitutional privacy protections and add burdensome regulations with a negative economic impact on the United States. Other provisions enacted at the same time, such as those pertaining to clarification of foreign trusts and treatment of dividends that do not have those negative impacts, have been left alone. The intent of this bill is not to disrupt legitimate tax enforcement, only to repeal counterproductive and constitutionally suspect mandates.”
Senator Paul’s bold and principled action comes on the heels of a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service by the Texas Bankers Association and Florida Bankers Association. In that suit, the bankers assert they will lose billions of dollars in business over improperly imposed regulations to report on foreign residents’ deposits to foreign governments. Such reporting, a key feature in the so-called “reciprocal” version of FATCA “intergovernmental agreements” (IGAs) non-U.S. governments are being pressured to sign, is just the camel’s nose under the tent of far more invasive and expensive reporting, for which the Treasury Department recently requested additional authority from Congress.
It is anticipated that a companion version of Senator Paul’s bill will be introduced shortly in the House of Representatives. In addition, measures to block the Treasury Department from carrying out the IGAs, which have not been authorized by Congress, are expected.
With the wind in Washington blowing against FATCA, foreign governments are on notice that Treasury’s promises of “reciprocity” are plain rubbish. Congress will not provide the needed authority to rescue this fatally flawed law. Instead of getting aboard the sinking FATCA ship, foreign governments should reject the constitutionally deficient IGAs Treasury has offered them, tell the U.S. they will not comply with FATCA or allow their domestic firms to comply with it, and signal their willingness to fight any illegal sanctions Treasury attempts to impose.
Activists in Washington are weighing in in support of Senator Paul:
“Senator Paul’s bold stand against FATCA has come at an opportune time. The world is fed up with U.S. fiscal imperialism, and the economy can ill afford another pointless and self-inflicted wound, as FATCA is the worst economic idea to come out of Congress since Smoot-Hawley. Rather than allow regulators to continue pursuing an unconstitutional ‘intergovernmental agreement’ strategy, it is time for lawmakers to accept defeat and abolish this fatally flawed law. Now would also be a good time for any foreign governments thinking about getting in bed with the US Treasury Department to think again. Their promises for reciprocation are simply worthless.” – Andrew Quinlan, Center for Freedom and Prosperity.
“The U.S. federal income tax system already imposes 6.7 billion hours of paperwork on individuals and businesses; FATCA would not only worsen this burden here at home, it would also impose onerous new liabilities abroad. The last thing America should be exporting is its complex tax laws. Senator Paul deserves a round of applause from taxpayers in our nation and around the world for recognizing the dangers FATCA poses to our economy and our civil liberties.” – Pete Sepp, National Taxpayers Union.
It is increasingly clear to everyone that FATCA has almost nothing to do with curbing actual “tax evasion” and everything to do with massive unintended consequences that will lose money for the federal treasury.
Finally, both American and non-U.S. firms that stand to lose millions of dollars each complying with FATCA need to help push the repeal bill through. FATCA repeal needs to be part of any tax reform deal between Congress and the Obama Administration.
James George Jatras