Donald C. Alexander; at 87; IRS chief who battled Nixon

By Ryan J. Donmoyer
Bloomberg News / February 6, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Donald C. Alexander, who resisted President Nixon's bid to use the Internal Revenue Service to persecute his political enemies, has died. He was 87.

Mr. Alexander died after a battle with cancer, according to a statement Wednesday by the Washington law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, where he was a partner since 1993.

He continued to work on a daily basis well into his late 80s and was a fixture at tax conferences and panel discussions, as well as a frequent commentator on tax issues in news articles.

As IRS commissioner from 1973 to 1977, Mr. Alexander closed a secretive political investigation unit that had been created under Nixon.

"I directed that the Special Service Staff be disbanded, pointing out that political or social views, extremist or otherwise, are irrelevant to taxation," Mr. Alexander wrote in a 1999 editorial for Tax Notes.

For his efforts, he said, Nixon tried to fire him. Congress responded by strengthening taxpayer-confidentiality laws.

Mr. Alexander said he met Nixon only once - in the spring of 1973 at the White House, where Alexander was attending a concert.

"You have a very difficult job," Alexander recalled the president telling him, according to an account in the trade journal Tax Notes. "Do it well and do it honestly."

Mr. Alexander said he thought: "Do it honestly? Of course I was going to do it honestly."

"Later those words came in very handy," recalled Mr. Alexander, who was credited with ending the politicization of the IRS by the White House.

"There's never been anybody who cares about the tax system and the integrity of the tax system as much as Don Alexander," said Margaret Milner Richardson, who served as IRS commissioner two decades later, during the Clinton administration.

Mr. Alexander served in World War II with the Army's 14th Armored Division and was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.

He was a 1942 graduate of Yale University and a 1948 graduate of Harvard Law School.

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