FACULTY PROFILE Samuel Brunson
Top in tax
Samuel Brunson, a Georgia Reithal Professor of Law, writes about the ways the federal income tax affects discrete groups of taxpayers, with special focus on investors and families, and explores issues related to the administration of the tax law. Brunson has been quoted in the New York Times, Bloomberg Law, The Washington Post, and Ars Technica, and regularly appears as a tax expert on WGN-TV and Chicago Tonight.
What do you like best about teaching tax at Loyola?
Many students take tax, not because they want to be tax attorneys, but because someone told them (correctly!) that they should. But they come in with the assumption that it’s going to be a boring high-school-math-style class. I love seeing students discover that tax law isn’t just boring and mechanical, but is a series of fascinating puzzles with hidden policy goals and compromises.
In your book, God and the IRS, you describe that problems that can occur when tax meets religion—can you provide an example?
Because religious practice often affects economic choices, religious practitioners sometimes don’t fit into the boxes anticipated by the tax law. For example, we can deduct the interest we pay on our mortgages. But what about Muslims, some of whom understand their religion to prevent them from borrowing or lending money? Islamic finance has come up with non-loan ways to get money to buy a house, but these financing options explicitly avoid charging interest by making alternative charges. Technically, those charges aren’t interest, and therefore aren’t deductible under current tax law. And their non-deductibility makes it more expensive for Muslims to buy houses than it is for non-Muslims.
“I love seeing students discover that tax law isn’t just boring and mechanical, but is a series of fascinating puzzles with hidden policy goals and compromises.”
How can the United States government more effectively respond to these issues?
The government needs to be thoughtful. As I explain in my book, in many cases, the government has provided a tax accommodation. But, its accommodations are ad hoc; I recommend in the book a framework to guide Congress in deciding whether to grant an accommodation or not.
President Trump failed to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which says tax-exempt houses of worship, charitable nonprofits, and private foundations will lose their exemption if they endorse or oppose political candidates. What’s ahead for the Johnson Amendment?
I don’t think it’s going anywhere. There is a small, vocal group that really wants it gone, but if they couldn’t make that happen in the 2017 tax reform, I don’t think they’ll make it happen in the future.
What’s next for you with regard to research?
The three projects at the top of my list deal with rethinking how to subsidize people’s charitable contributions; looking at the potential effects of taxing guns; and looking at the history of U.S. taxation through the lens of the Mormon Church.
Who picks out your cool ties?
Mostly my wife, though sometimes my children.
Read more for Professor Brunson on his blog, The Surly Subgroup.