This week my colleague Cara Griffith broke an important story about the arrogance of government. An erstwhile publishing entrepreneur named William Hoke has a website that published tax information. He published several government documents. The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration decided that it would prefer if those documents remained secret. The department sent letters to Hoke threatening legal action unless he gave the government access to his subscription-based website. Hoke was not publishing any taxpayer-related information. But the department still demanded that he remove some of the documents.
The basis for this demand? The department says the documents belong to the government because, well, it has a proprietary interest in them. As Cara points out, this is an absurd argument. Documents (except for taxpayer information of course) produced by the “government” belong to the citizens. The documents at issue should be publicly available and free. As Cara noted in her column:
- The DRA is resisting transparency in the administration of its tax system and is willing to attempt to silence the public dissemination of information about how it performs its functions. That level of resistance is worrisome. Taxpayers have a right to know what the tax laws are and how they will be enforced.
But the real travesty is the thuggish approach the department took with Hoke. His government threatened him. It seeks to force him to do something contrary to his best interests. Where does the department get that power? On what authority or principle can the department threaten a citizen for publishing public documents? Tax collectors from the IRS down to the states are mistrusted by the people. The department’s actions regarding Hoke will only add to that mistrust.