Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tax Agencies Should Read the Language of the Statute and May Not Expand the Law’s Requirements

As some of our readers are aware, on June 28, 2011, California’s Governor Brown signed into law a bill (ABX1 28) that provides for “click-through nexus” under certain circumstances. This law is similar to “click-through nexus” legislation adopted in New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Arkansas (which we have written about extensively in the past), inasmuch as it creates a rebuttal presumption of nexus if a company’s annual sales to California exceed $500,000 and if the company’s California sales exceed $10,000 from links or other referrals from companies (“affiliates”) who receive a commission from such referrals.

Unlike the Illinois and Connecticut statutes, which automatically create nexus in the event that sales from affiliates exceed the threshold, the California law provides that the retailer can rebut the determination of nexus based on affiliate relationships. Nevertheless, in a recent notice issued by the California Board of Equalization (Notice L-284, issued July 2011), the Board states that there are only two conditions to a finding that a retailer must be registered for sales and use tax collection: (1) that sales from affiliates exceeded $10,000 in the last 12 months; and (2) that the retailer’s total sales to California exceed $500,000 in the last 12 months. According to the Board, if a business meets the foregoing requirements and is not already registered with the Board, it must complete a “California Certificate of Registration—Use Tax.”

The Board is simply wrong. It misses two sections of the newly-enacted statute. Section 6203(5)(E) provides as follows: “This paragraph shall not apply if the retailer can demonstrate that the person in this state with whom the retailer has an agreement did not engage in referrals in the state on behalf of the retailer that would satisfy the requirements of the commerce clause of the United States Constitution.” This is similar (but not identical) to the clauses in the New York statute that permit the retailer to show that the affiliates do not engage in any solicitation in the state. Similarly, Section 6203(5)(C) provides that “an advertisement on a web site will not create nexus if the person entering the agreement with the retailer also directly or indirectly solicits potential customers in this state through use of flyers, newsletters, telephone calls, electronic mail, blogs, microblogs, social networking sites, or other means of direct or indirect solicitation specifically targeted at potential customers in this state.” Many affiliate relationships are based on advertisements placed on web sites.

In short, it is important to read not only the notices you may receive from a state tax agency, but also to review the underlying legislation and regulations. State tax agencies simply cannot expand a law. Legislatures and Governors adopt laws. State tax agencies are entrusted with enforcing the laws, not creating them.

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