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Maryland Sued over Digital Advertising “Tax”

Today, McDermott Will & Emery filed suit in Maryland federal court on behalf of a number of leading trade associations against Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, challenging the state’s recently enacted 10% gross receipts “tax” applicable to digital advertising revenue. The plaintiffs in the suit are the US Chamber of Commerce, the Internet Association, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association. The suit asks that the court invalidate Maryland’s punitive imposition as violating several provisions of the US Constitution and the Internet Tax Freedom Act.

A file-stamped copy of the complaint is available below:



The complaint alleges that Maryland’s focus on internet advertising services (the tax does not apply to traditional advertising) discriminates against the internet, violating the Internet Tax Freedom Act. Next, because Maryland’s new law burdens and penalizes conduct occurring outside Maryland, it violates the Commerce and Due Process Clauses of the US Constitution. The complaint alleges that the characteristics of the imposition and the circumstances surrounding its enactment demonstrate a clear purpose and intent to punish out-of-state digital advertising companies for their extraterritorial activities.

The case is Civil No. 21-cv-410 (D. Md., filed February 18, 2021). Michael B. Kimberly, Paul W. Hughes, Stephen P. Kranz and Sarah P. Hogarth of McDermott, Will & Emery’s Washington, DC, office represent the plaintiffs.

Practice Note: The filing of this suit sends a signal to other states, like New York, Connecticut and Montana, where similar proposals are under consideration. Policymakers in those other states should recognize that following Maryland’s lead will only lead to the courthouse.




Maryland Enacts First Digital Advertising Services Gross Receipts Tax: Now What?

General Assembly Veto Override

On February 12, 2021, the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of HB 732 (2020) (the Act), a bill enacting a first-of-its-kind digital advertising services tax on the annual gross receipts from the provision of digital advertising services in Maryland. The tax only applies to companies having annual gross revenues (without deduction of any expenses) from all sources of $100 million or more. The rate of the tax varies, depending on the level of global annual gross revenues, from 2.5% (for companies with $1 billion or less in global annual gross revenues) to 10% (for companies with more than $15 billion in global annual gross revenue). The rate applies to gross revenues from the performance of digital advertising services in Maryland. For instance, a company subject to the 10% rate having $100 million of revenue attributable to the performance of digital advertising services in Maryland would owe an annual tax of $10 million that will be reported and paid on a quarterly basis throughout the year.



Effective Date

Even though the legislation says the tax is effective July 1, 2020, under the Maryland Constitution, vetoed legislation becomes effective the later of the effective date in the bill or 30 days after the veto is overridden. Based on today’s veto override, the bill should become effective on or about March 14, 2021. However, because the legislation is “applicable to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020,” the digital advertising services tax will be retroactive to the beginning of this year.

Looming Compliance Deadlines

The digital advertising services tax applies on an annual basis with a return due on or before April 15 of the following year. However, the tax also requires quarterly filing and payment for certain taxpayers. On or before April 15 of the current year, persons subject to the tax are required to file a declaration of estimated tax showing how much Maryland digital advertising services tax they expect they will owe for the calendar year. As part of the declaration and quarterly with returns filed thereafter, the Act requires that they pay at least 25% of the estimated annual tax shown on the declaration. There is a penalty of up to 25% of the amount of any underestimate of the tax. The Act also creates a fine of up to $5,000 and criminal penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for willfully failing to file the annual return.

Filing and Guidance TBD

At the time of writing, the Maryland Office of the Comptroller has not published any of the forms necessary for making the declaration of estimated tax or the return due on April 15 of the current year. The comptroller’s office also has not adopted regulations as required by the Act, providing guidance on when advertising revenue is derived in Maryland, likely a daunting and complicated task since this is a novel question that other states have not addressed. Many aspects of the Act are vague at best [...]

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Massachusetts DOR Sending Letters to Sellers Regarding July 1 Effective Date of Economic Nexus Directive

Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (Department) sent letters to several companies regarding Directive 17-1. The Directive announces a “rule” requiring remote internet sellers to register for and begin collecting Massachusetts sales and use tax (sales tax) by July 1, 2017, if they had more than $500,000 in Massachusetts sales during the preceding year. The legal premise behind the rule is that the Department believes sellers with more than $500,000 in annual Massachusetts sales must have more than a de minimis physical presence so that requiring sales tax collection would not be prohibited by Quill Corp v. North Dakota, 504 US 298 (1992). The Directive’s examples of such physical presence include the presence of cookies on purchasers’ computers, use of third-party carriers to make white-glove deliveries and the use of online marketplaces to sell products. The Directive also states that sellers who fail to collect tax beginning July 1, 2017 will be subject to interest and penalties (plus, of course, any uncollected taxes).

We think the Directive is contrary to law on three main grounds. First, we believe that the items that the Department asserts create physical presence are insufficient to establish more than a de minimis physical presence. For example, the presence of cookies on computers in a state appears to be less of a physical presence than the floppy disks the seller in Quill sent into North Dakota (which were used by its customers to place orders) that the United States Supreme Court viewed as de minimis. Second, the Directive violates the state administrative procedures act because it constitutes an administrative rule that was not validly adopted. Third, the Directive’s rule violates the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a federal statute, because the rule discriminates against internet sellers.

By its own terms, the Directive applies only prospectively. The Directive does not assert a blanket rule that internet sellers are liable for sales tax for periods prior to July 1, 2017, if they met a certain sales threshold. The risks from non-collection for such periods are dependent on a company’s specific facts. The letters advise sellers that they may be eligible for voluntary disclosure for such prior periods.

Companies have two general options: (1) register and begin collecting or (2) not register or collect. Litigation has been brought on behalf of a number of sellers to challenge the Directive on the grounds identified above. One important aspect of that litigation is the request for an injunction barring the enforcement of the Directive pending a court decision; an injunction would likely prompt many sellers to take a “wait and see” approach. Ultimately, sellers must make a business decision based on their own facts and business circumstances.




If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again: Illinois General Assembly Sends Revised Version of Click-Through Nexus Law to the Governor for Signature

In 2011, Illinois became one of the first states to follow New York’s lead by enacting “click-through nexus” legislation.  The Illinois law created nexus for any out-of-state retailer that contracted with a person in Illinois who displayed a link on his, her or its website that had the ability to connect an Internet user to the remote retailer’s website, when those referrals generated over $10,000 per year in sales.  Pub. Act 96-1544, §§5, 10 (eff. Mar. 10, 2011) (codified at 35 ILCS 105/2(1.1) and 35 ILCS 110/2(1.1) (West 2010).  On October 13, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the click-through nexus law violated the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) by imposing a discriminatory tax on electronic commerce.  Performance Marketing Ass’n v. Hamer, 2013 IL 114496.  The court held that the statute unlawfully discriminated against Internet retailers by imposing a use tax collection obligation based only on Internet referrals but not on print or over-the-air broadcasting referrals.  The court did not reach the question whether the law also violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution (although the trial court had also rejected the law on this basis).

In its recently completed Spring 2014 legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly approved an amendment to the click-through law that was designed to correct the deficiencies found by the Illinois Supreme Court.  SB0352 (the Bill).  The Bill expands the definition of a “retailer maintaining a place of business in this State” under the Illinois Use Tax and Service Occupation Tax Acts (Acts) to include retailers who contract with Illinois persons who refer potential customers to the retailer by providing a promotional code or other mechanism that allows the retailer to track purchases referred by the person (referring activities).  The referring activities can include an Internet link, a promotional code distributed through hand-delivered or mailed material or promotional codes distributed by persons through broadcast media.  The Bill goes on to provide that retailers can rebut the presumption of nexus created by the use of promotional codes or other tracking mechanisms by submitting proof that the referring activities are not sufficient to meet the nexus standards of the United States Constitution.  Presumably, under the principles of Scripto and Tyler, if a remote seller can demonstrate that the Illinois referrals are not “significantly associated” with its ability to “establish or maintain” the Illinois market, the presumption will be rebutted.

As amended, the Bill appears to address the ITFA concerns expressed by the Illinois Supreme Court by not singling out internet-type referrals.  It also attempts to resolve any due process constitutional concerns by providing an opportunity for retailers to rebut the presumption of nexus created by their use of referring activities.  The Bill was sent to the Illinois governor for signature on June 27.  The Bill will take immediate effect upon becoming law.

At present, four other states (Georgia, Kansas, Maine and Missouri) have click-through nexus laws that expressly extend the presumption of nexus to non-Internet based referring activities.  [...]

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