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Kornhauser article in Duke Law journal

October 28, 2010

An article by Marjorie Kornhauser, “Shaping Public Opinion and the Law: How a ‘Common Man’ Campaign Ended a Rich Man’s Law,” was published in a symposium edition of Duke Law School's Law and Contemporary Problems entitled, “Turning Points in the History of the Federal Income Tax.”

After summarizing the history of publicizing income tax information in the United States, the article describes the passage of a provision of the Revenue Act of 1934 which required that certain income tax information be made available to the public. The purpose of making such information publicly available was to both cut down on tax evasion and give people confidence that others were paying their fair share of taxes. In 1935, less than a year after its passage, the provision was repealed before it took effect.

Kornhauser‘s article concentrates on the successful campaign waged by a small organization to persuade the public, not just Congress, that publicity of tax information should be repealed, despite the fact that few Americans paid taxes at the time. It examines the group’s lobbying techniques, especially its rhetoric which focused on how publicity would invade the privacy of the “common man” and lead to scams by con artists and even kidnapping.

The campaign confirmed the power of a small, committed number of individuals to effect political change by harnessing the support of the “common” man, a technique still frequently used, as in the recent battle to repeal the estate tax.

To read the article, go to

Kornhauser is Director of the Tax Literacy Project. Her research focuses on the intersection of federal income taxation and society, and explores the philosophical, social, political, gendered and historical aspects of taxation.