To show just how unwieldy and dense the federal tax code has become, Robert Misey recently tried to blow up the 6th volume of his IRS regulations using three rounds of fire crackers.
Rather than a smoldering heap of chard paper and ashes, the attempt left behind little more than a burn mark in the stacked sheets of paper.
“That just goes to show how impenetrable those IRS regulations are if you can’t even blow them up with three sets of fire crackers,” says Misey, an expert in international tax law at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren.
Federal tax rules may have been the target of the video Misey made of that particular stunt and later posted to LinkedIn. But they are not the main reason why Misey takes time to make regular appearances before the camera.
His goal is instead to make potential clients aware of his services. Milwaukee, Misey said, doesn’t necessarily come first to mind when people are looking for an authority on international taxation.
Misey said he often finds himself attending events throughout the country, talking to CPAs and similar professionals about the expertise he has honed over the years. His videos are merely a way to remind these new acquaintances, when they go searching for his name online, of what it is exactly that he does.
“I try to post something every three or four weeks,” he said. “So when people have an international tax issue they think of Rob Misey.”
Also, he concedes, he’s a bit of a frustrated actor. The videos are a way to combine his love with tax arcana with his love for the screen.
“If you are a tax professional, I’m hoping you’ll laugh,” Misey said. “But, more importantly, I’m hoping you’ll take away something about tax law that’s going to help your client somewhere in the future. I always want to provide a kernel of value so people don’t feel they are wasting their time.”
After graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1987, Misey worked in various cities for the Internal Revenue Service and a large accounting firm (and picked up a few minor film credits) before returning to his native Whitefish Bay. He recently sat down with the Wisconsin Law Journal to talk about his interests and international tax law and his thoughts about the U.S. tax code.
(This article has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Wisconsin Law Journal: What drew you to tax law?
Misey: In law school, it seemed that all the questions, everything was in a sort of gray area. It was all approximate. In my tax classes, the answers seemed much more black and white. That’s what attracted me to it. Of course, once you get into it, you realize that it’s not all black of white. There are lots of gray areas in tax law too.
WLJ: Many people say U.S. tax laws are overly complex. But are they really so much worse than those in other countries?
Misey: My favorite example of this comes from Canada. It’s a copy of their tax code and their regulations and two tax treaties. It’s their treaty with United States and one with the U.K. And it’s all in one volume.
Here, in the U.S., we have two volumes of the code and six volumes of regulations. When I worked at the IRS my branch was dealing with transfer-pricing regulations for goods, services and intangibles. We had one proposed reg that was 120 pages long. Back then, we got ripped for having such long regulations. But if you look after the 2017 Tax Act, that would be one of the shortest regulations.
WLJ: How do you come to terms with the tax code?
Misey: Well, you have this body of law, these regulations, that people simply aren’t reading. People are reacting to them without reading them. So I make the painstaking attempt to read final regulations not once, not twice, but three times to make sure I have correctly understood this body of law that nobody reads.
WLJ: Many, many people have talked for years about the need to simplify the tax code. Why do you think nothing ever happens?
Misey: People think the tax code is meant to do more than raise revenue. Everything is politically oriented. They are trying to control the behavior of taxpayers. If you just wanted to raise revenue, it wouldn’t be that complex. If they were serious about shortening the tax code, they’d get rid of every regulation over 20 pages long.
WLJ: Aren’t you worried that if the tax code were simplified, you’d have a lot less work to do?
Misey: What’s that old saying about the two things that are certain in life? Death and taxes. I’m not worried.