A Democratic group is asking the IRS to investigate New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown for deducting thousands of dollars of makeup and grooming expenses on his taxes.
"Grooming expenses, including haircuts and nail maintenance, are inherently personal expenses, and repeatedly have been determined to be non-deductible,” Brad Woodhouse, a Democratic operative and treasurer of the American Democracy Legal Fund, wrote in a letter to IRS commissioner John Koskinen dated Wednesday.
Brown’s 2010 and 2011 tax returns are not currently public, but he made them briefly available to reporters while during his unsuccessful Senate re-election campaign in Massachusetts against Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012. According to news reports at the time, Brown claimed deductions of $2,149 and $1,401 for “TV makeup and grooming” while promoting his memoirs.
Woodhouse’s group argues that similar deductions have been found illegal in the past. As evidence, they cite a 2011 case involving former TV anchor Anietra Hamper, who argued unsuccessfully that items like clothing, makeup, and haircuts were legitimate business expenses given her on-screen work.
“One thread that often comes out in the cases suggests that if an item has a normally personal use, it will be very difficult to deduct that expense, even if the particular taxpayer incurred the expense for business reasons,” Brookes D. Billman, a professor of tax law at New York University, told msnbc in an email.
But Billman said Brown’s deductions weren’t necessarily improper based on the limited information available. If Brown had purchased special makeup used only for TV appearances, for example, he could make a compelling case that it was a legitimate expense with no possible personal use.
“The ultimate resolution of Mr. Brown's case requires knowing all the facts surrounding his book endeavor,” Billman said. “While it is not inappropriate to ask the IRS to scrutinize this situation, it strikes me that the letter to the IRS is motivated as much by politics as it is good tax administration.”
After losing to Warren, Brown relocated to New Hampshire and is now is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Polls show a tight contest.
A spokeswoman for Scott Brown’s campaign, Elizabeth Guyton, dismissed the group’s letter as a partisan attack.
"This is a partisan Democratic group whose purpose is to file frivolous complaints against Republican candidates,” Guyton said in an email. “Their claims have absolutely no merit."