Monday, July 11, 2011

Analyzing and debunking Rep. Bachmann's legal past

Rep. and Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has done well in recent polls causing many observers to consider her with greater scrutiny.  Nothing jumped out at me at first.  Then I heard that she was not just a former tax attorney, but that she was a tax attorney for the IRS.  This alleged fact gave me pause as a fiscal conservative and tea party sympathizer.

Below is the mess of information I found on Rep. Bachmann's legal career reorganized for rational perusal.

Law school: O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University

According to her bio, Rep. Bachmann graduated from the O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University in 1986.  It appears that this was the last class of the school as the school was merged into the fledgling law program at CBN University, later called Regents School of Law in Virginia.  This does not appear to have been a particularly prestigious law school, but in the end, a legal career is what you make of it.

L.L.M in Tax: William and Mary School of Law

Rep. Bachmann then claims to have obtained an L.L.M in Tax at the William and Mary School of Law in 1988.  In modern terms, most L.L.M. programs are designed for foreign trained lawyers to become eligible to take a bar examination in a U.S. state and are unavailable to lawyers that attend a United States law school.  Nonetheless, there are a few specialties that allow students to apply for and obtain L.L.M's in particular fields.  A specific L.L.M. specialty that withstood the test of time is an L.L.M. in Tax.  Both the L.L.M. in Tax and the William and Mary School of Law carry with them a substantial amount of prestige.  This should be a gold star on her biography.

And then there was uninformed scrutiny . . .

Apparently, William and Mary School of Law only offers L.L.M.'s to foreign lawyers who wish to practice in the United States.  There is no Tax L.L.M. program.  Picking up on this fact, commentators (I am being generous here) have been angrily accusing Rep. Bachmann of lying about her legal pedigree.  See here, here, and here.  They use phrases such as William and Mary does not and "never has" offered an L.L.M. in Tax law.

It is just plain wrong.  William and Mary School of Law used to offer an L.L.M. in Tax.  William and Mary recently put out a statement acknowledging her degree and alumnae status.  If you simply Google the relevant search terms you can find other attorneys claiming to have an L.L.M. in Tax form William and Mary in 1988.  E.g., here and here.  Either this is a massive conspiracy or she actually has the degree.  Another observer came to the same conclusion I did on her own.

Is she licensed to practice law?

The answer is yes, she was and currently appears to be licensed to practice law by the state of Minnesota.  Any attempt to suggest this is not true or odd that she might choose Minnesota is inherently false and uninformed.

But what about the IRS stuff?

According to the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic she did represent the IRS in collections matters against taxpayers.  According to the WSJ article, because few matters were appealed there is little documentation from her time at the IRS from 1988-1992.  A note to readers, we likely will not see much in response to FOIA requests either as the relevant documents are likely attorney client privileged and/or contain personal information of taxpayers and will be protected from disclosure.  This era in Rep. Bachmann's life should be concerning for those supporting limited government. 

Surely government service, even for the IRS, is no bar to support from those seeking a limited government, but it certainly raises questions.  Rep. Bachmann acknowledges she was a tax attorney, but does not talk openly about her representation of the federal government.  On her Congressional website she states, ". . .I saw firsthand that our nation’s tax laws are hard to understand and undermine the country’s prosperity by imposing needlessly harsh penalties on work, savings, and investments."  If she contends she learned the evils of the tax code while working for the IRS, that is a narrative that can sell. 

Refusing to talk about her time at the IRS is the wrong decision, and forces me to remain skeptical.

1 comment:

  1. I can understand your skepticism of Bachman's IRS tenure, but I also think it is important to note two things:

    1) 4 years right out of college at the IRS is not a delimiter to me. Her time is rather short and her statements against the code are factually consistent.
    2) her statement regarding the issue within the code tell me she's learned something. I can understand your skepticism of Bachman's IRS tenure, but I also think it is important to note two things:

    1) Her time at the IRS was her first real position as a tax attorney right out of college and is not an automatic delimiter to me
    2) her statement regarding the issue within the code tell me she's learned something. Unfortunately though, I think it difficult for her to even discuss case information to support her position. However, the fact that she consistently decrys the issue within the code says a lot.

    Both of these things tell me she is forthright and until we can find an actual inconsistency in her statements or any falsehood in her history, I remain favorable of her stated position and support her repeated calls for limited government.