On February 9, 2011, the Maine Legislature introduced a bill (LD 469) which would impose upon certain out-of-state retailers a set of notice and reporting obligations that closely parallel the requirements of Colorado’s 2010 law, H.B. 10-1193. Enforcement of H.B. 10-1193 was recently enjoined by a federal judge in Denver on the grounds that such requirements are likely unconstitutional and in violation of the Commerce Clause. As we have reported in prior posts, Brann & Isaacson represents the Direct Marketing Association in the federal court challenge to the now-suspended Colorado law, after which the Maine bill is patterned.
Maine’s LD 469 includes all three of the Colorado law’s notice and reporting requirements – retailers must provide the Transactional Notice, Annual Purchase Summaries to customers, and Customer Information Reports to revenue officials – and would impose penalties on affected retailers for non-compliance with the law. Notably, however, unlike the Colorado law, the Maine bill includes no $500 annual minimum purchase threshold to trigger the requirement that an affected retailer must send a customer an Annual Purchase Summary. Similar to Colorado’s law, under LD 469 such annual summaries to customers must include, if available, “[d]escriptions of items purchased,” as well as dates and amounts. Also in contrast to Colorado, the report to Maine Revenue Services must include all of the information provided to each purchaser in the annual summary – thereby requiring that at least descriptions of the items purchased by customers of an affected out-of-state retailer be turned over to Maine Revenue Services. The Maine bill thus raises even more significant privacy concerns for Maine consumers buying from affected retailers than does the privacy-invading Colorado law.
The Maine bill also appears to differ from the Colorado law in another respect: whereas the suspended Colorado law applies, by its terms, to all out-of-state retailers that do not collect Colorado sales tax, LD 469 imposes its onerous notice and reporting obligations only upon companies that are presumed to be doing business in the state because they are members of a “controlled group of corporations” that has at least one member who is already a retailer with a physical presence in the state. The Bill Summary states that “[t]his bill requires out-of-state retailers that are not required to collect sales tax and that are part of a controlled group of corporations with a connection in the State” to comply with the notice and reporting obligations. The apparent requirement that, to be subject to the law, an out-of-state retailer must have an affiliated retailer with physical presence in Maine, means that the proposed law would not apply to as broad a group of out-of-state companies as does the Colorado law.
What the sponsors of the bill apparently fail to recognize is that limiting the notice and reporting obligations to a more narrow group of out-of-state retailers who do not collect sales tax (i.e, only those who are part of a controlled group) does not change the fact that it discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made it perfectly clear that a state cannot pick and choose which out-of-state companies it will discriminate against – even state laws that have imposed disparate treatment upon only a single out-of-state company that is not imposed upon in-state companies are virtually per se invalid under the Commerce Clause.
The prospects for passage of LD 469 are, at this point, entirely uncertain, so there is still time for Maine’s elected officials to avoid following in the footsteps of their Colorado counterparts. In addition to running afoul of over 180 years of established constitutional law, LD 469 is simply bad policy – invading the privacy of Maine citizens should never be viewed as a proper approach to promoting use tax reporting.
Since the new year, several other states, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont, and Texas, have introduced new notice and reporting bills, or “Amazon” affiliate-nexus legislation. Stay tuned for an update on the progress of these bills.