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Closed Events Stifle Debate

Posted on October 31, 2016 by Griffith, Cara

Cara GriffithCara Griffith is Tax Analysts' vice president of editorial operations.

In response to a closed National Foreign Trade Council meeting, Tax Analysts editor in chief Cara Griffith calls on U.S. government officials to allow press access to meetings to foster an open, informed debate of tax issues.

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As members of the press, we know we are not wanted everywhere. It is much easier to talk freely when you know that there (probably) is not a voice recorder and a journalist in the room. However, when it comes to discussions of U.S. tax policies, Tax Analysts believes that it is antithetical to the spirit of openness and free debate for U.S. government officials to participate in closed-door discussions with select insiders.

Only one week after the release of important new regulations under section 385, for which many questions remain unanswered, two senior officials -- Danielle Rolfes, Treasury international tax counsel, and Brenda Zent, special adviser, Treasury Office of International Tax Counsel -- spoke to the National Foreign Trade Council's Fall Tax Committee Meeting. Tax Analysts made repeated requests for access to the October 20 sessions in which the Treasury officials were scheduled to speak.

In one final attempt at opening up the discussion, Tax Analysts legal reporter Alexander Lewis requested entry in person. He was barred from the sessions and asked to leave the premises. He was not even allowed the opportunity to stake out the lobby to ask attendees what was going on inside. We're reporters; it's one of the things we do.

We don't know what was said. It could have been the same things that were and will be said at meetings open to the press. But that's the problem: We have no way of knowing whether these discussions imparted new insights into the government's approach to the section 385 regulations or other guidance projects that will forever be available only to the invitees.

A vigorous debate requires everyone's participation. Journalists stand in for those who cannot otherwise attend due to time, distance, or not being on the right email list in order to ensure that the wider community has a complete picture of decisions made by the government and the reasons for those decisions.

We take this role and this responsibility very seriously.

Tax Analysts' mission is to promote an open, informed debate on an area of importance to all citizens. To that end, we call on event organizers to ensure press access to all sessions in which IRS and Treasury officials are speaking. Short of that, we are calling for all Treasury and IRS officials to decline to speak if their words will be reserved only for the privileged few invited to attend.