by Ben Wolfgang
August 9, 2013
Charging that Delaware officials have stopped cooperating with his investigation, Sen. Chuck Grassley on Friday sent a pointed letter to the state's Division of Revenue in which he outlines specific, outstanding questions that still swirl around the handling of former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell’s tax records.
“On multiple occasions, my staff has requested a copy of your records retention policy, the opportunity to speak with [officials at the state's Division of Revenue] and other clarifications related to these matters. To date, you have failed to respond,” the letter from the Iowa Republican reads in part.
In a case first reported by The Washington Times, Ms. O'Donnell — a tea party favorite who in 2010 ran unsuccessfully for Vice President Joseph Biden’s old U.S. Senate seat — revealed last month that her personal tax information had been accessed by David Smith, an investigator with Delaware's Division of Revenue.
The access, which took place in March 2010, spawned an inquiry by the U.S. Treasury Department along with denials by Delaware officials that anything inappropriate had taken place.
Calls and emails to the Delaware Division of Revenue weren’t immediately returned Friday afternoon.
The case has attracted the attention of Mr. Grassley and others who fear that, at best, the incident shows that personal tax information is vulnerable to snooping by state governments.
At worst, as Ms. O'Donnell alleges, it’s an example of using tax information to deliberately target a political candidate.
Even though the Division of Revenue concedes that the investigator examined the records in March 2010 — and maintains that it was part of a typical review and in no way improper — Ms. O'Donnell didn’t learn of the incident until January of this year, when she received a call from an investigator with the Treasury Department.
After the access came to light, Division of Revenue Director Patrick Carter apparently met with Treasury officials to review the incident and determined that nothing inappropriate had taken place.
But Mr. Grassley is questioning how that’s possible since he and his staff have been told that the state retains tax access records for only three months.
“On July 23, 2013, you reported to my staff that the Tax Data Services database utilized by Delaware only maintains an electronic audit trail of systems access for three months. This leads me to question how you were able to confirm information about systems access and its appropriateness when it occurred two years to your interaction with the Treasury Department,” the letter continues.
The Division of Revenue also has said, according to Mr. Grassley, that there is no “empirical proof” that Ms. O'Donnell’s tax records weren’t looked at on prior occasions, raising the possibility that her personal information was accessed on more than one occasion.
Ms. O'Donnell’s story broke just as the Treasury Department’s tax watchdog admitted to Mr. Grassley that at least four politicians or political donors have had their personal tax records improperly accessed since 2006, including one case in which a willful violation of federal law was identified.
But the Justice Department has declined to prosecute any of of the cases. Mr. Grassley, who serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees, continues to seek more answers from Justice in addition to his interactions with Treasury and the Delaware Division of Revenue.