Faculty Scholarship Digest

Donald B. Tobin



 Donald B. Tobin, Campaign Disclosure and Tax-Exempt Entities: A Quick Repair to the Regulatory Plumbing,  10 Election L.J. 427 (2011).

Disclosure of political contributions has long been a cornerstone of campaign finance regulation on the grounds that knowledge of the source of a candidate’s financial support is important both for public assessment of the candidate and to prevent actual corruption. Donald, a leading national expert in the interplay of tax and campaign finance, has long-noted an important loophole in disclosure regulation, and since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United, exploitation of that loophole appears to be growing rapidly. This article, in the leading journal in the Election Law field, explains the problem and proposes some regulatory fixes that the Department of Treasury can impose constitutionally and without congressional action.


Donald B. Tobin, PROBLEMS IN TAX ETHICS (West 2009) (w/Richard Lavoie and Richard E. Trogolo).

The need for integration of professional ethics throughout the law school curriculum has been a consistent refrain in legal education reform in recent years, and many law teachers are seeking ways to achieve this in the context of their doctrinal classes. In this 300-page softback volume, Donald and his coauthors have provided an important and innovative tool for tax instructors to do so. The book organizes the ethical issues faced by tax lawyers into seven categories, creates a chapter for each, and in each chapter provides source material addressing the issue and then problems and scenarios that require application of that material (a teacher’s manual for the book is forthcoming). These “materials” come from diverse sources: ABA opinions, IRS opinions, court decisions, administrative regulations and proposed regulations, articles, and restatements, to mention just some. (The book contains a section at the start addressing the legal force of various publications in this context). In short, the book is innovative in both subject-matter and approach.

While most law teachers probably think their area is unique in some way, reading Donald’s book certainly underlines the special challenges of ethical regulation in the field of taxation, in which there is an exceptionally broad range of choices for taxpayers and their attorneys between “aggressive” interpretations that would benefit the taxpayer and are not frivolous and more conservative approaches that attorneys would be confident would withstand challenge. As the book explains, since there is no one on the other side, so to speak, unless and until the IRS gets involved, there is a great deal of choosing to be governed by ethical standards, and with very important consequences (see, e.g., Enron, Tyco and Worldcom). The book covers both areas that are unique to tax (e.g., tax shelters, business activities) and those that lawyers face in other fields but have special applications in tax (e.g., evidentiary privileges, conflicts of interest).

Donald B. Tobin (w/Samuel A. Donaldson), FEDERAL INCOME TAX, A CONTEMPORARY APPROACH (West 2012).

This book is the tax entry in West’s new interactive casebook series, in which there is an on-line version of the book that allows direct links to Black’s Law Dictionary and Westlaw and allows for highlighting and note-taking in the e-book, and literally hundreds of links to reify the materials — not just links to the full cases, but to videos, photos, audio clips and so forth. Donald and his co-author frame their book as a “supplement” to the Internal Revenue Code and the corresponding Treasury regulations that are the primary text. “Supplement” is certainly a modest label for this teaching text which not only gives a clear structure and “way in” to learning about the Code, but is also replete with problems, self-assessment questions and other tools of contemporary pedagogy.

The book also brings learning theory to bear in its somewhat unusual structure. Part I, “A First Glance,” goes through the Code, introducing the basics such as progressivity, marginal rates, gross income, deductions and credits. Part II: “A Closer Look” goes back through the system a second time, dealing with some tougher concepts, such as the meaning of “gross income” and the treatment of certain important costs as personal, business, or investment activities. Part III: “A Hard Stare” takes students on a third tour through the system, looking in detail at such principles as timing, personal deductions and other advanced topics. As a result, students not only move from the basic to the advanced, but in doing so get three trips through the material.