ProPublica doesn't have a smoking gun, but the journalism advocacy organization has pretty solid circumstantial evidence that Intuit, the maker of popular tax filing software TurboTax, is behind a seemingly grassroots effort to thwart a proposal for the IRS to offer pre-filed tax returns, or return-free filing.
The idea behind return-free filing is that the IRS would basically do your taxes for you, filling in the blanks based on information it already has from banks and employers. Taxpayers would get the pre-filed documents and either correct any errors and return them, use the information to file their own tax returns, or just ignore the pre-filed return and go about their normal business. Depending on how you feel about the IRS, this is either creepy or a godsend.
ProPublica is on the godsend side: "Return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes," says ProPublica's Liz Day. Intuit, not surprisingly, is against the idea, since — as it explained in a filing with the SEC — free, easy tax-filing options "may cause us to lose customers and revenue."
Intuit has every right to make that case — and it spent $2.6 million on lobbying in 2013, including against return-free filing proposals in Congress, to make it. But the methods it is employing, according to ProPublica, look pretty shady: Hiring PR firms, either directly or through the trade group the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), to urge community leaders and nonprofits to put their moral authority to work in service of stopping return-free filing.
ProPublica spoke with several such community leaders, including a rabbi and a state NAACP president, who wrote public letters against the proposals after receiving misleading form letters from acquaintances they either didn't realize were lobbyists or didn't know were representing Intuit.
Day also spoke with an Oregon nonprofit director, Angela Martin, who asked enough questions to intuit who was behind the push, researched return-free filing, then wrote in support of the proposal. "You get one or two prominent nonprofits to use their name, and busy advocates will extend trust and say sure, us too," Martin explained to ProPublica. If you aren't too exhausted after filing your tax returns by today's deadline — or, especially, if you are exhausted — read the entire article at ProPublica. Peter Weber
Army Captain Humayun S. M. Khan had dreams of becoming a military lawyer, but in 2004, he was killed during a suicide attack against the base he was protecting in Iraq. His family is certain that a warning he gave to members of his unit to "hit the dirt" saved countless lives.
On Thursday, Khan's parents stood in front of the Democratic National Convention, as "patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country." To a standing ovation and sustained cheers, Khan's father, Khizr Khan, shared that "like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed. We believed in American democracy, that with hard work and goodness of this country, we could share in and contribute to its blessings. We were blessed to raise our three sons in a nation where they were free to be themselves and follow their dreams."
On the day he died, "sacrificing his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers," Khan was "the best of America," Khizr Khan said. "If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country. Donald Trump, you're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution?"
The crowd erupted in cheers as Khan pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his jacket and announced, "I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document look for the words 'liberty' and 'equal protection of law.'" He urged Trump to visit Arlington Cemetery and "look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and we cannot solve our problems by building walls and sowing division. We are stronger together." Catherine Garcia
Moments after Donald Trump praised waterboarding at an Iowa rally Thursday night, retired United States Marine Corps Gen. John Allen passionately pledged "our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture" at the Democratic National Convention.
"Our armed forces will not be an instrument of torture." — Gen. John Allen at DNC, moments after Trump said this. https://t.co/KWCvokUaXw
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) July 29, 2016
Though Allen, who served in the war in Afghanistan, expressed certainty that America will defeat "ISIS and others like you," he emphasized that we need someone in power like Hillary Clinton, not Trump, to do so. "With her as our commander-in-chief, our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction," Allen said, noting that "she, as no other, knows how to use all instruments of American power."
Catch a clip of Allen's speech below. Becca Stanek
General John Allen: "This is the moment...We must seize this moment to elect Hillary Clinton." pic.twitter.com/cL1JxPut2n
— POLITICO (@politico) July 29, 2016
Retired Marine Corps General John Allen spoke Thursday at the Democratic National Convention, making the case that Hillary Clinton would be a responsible steward of the American military.
During his speech, antiwar factions among the assembled delegates repeatedly attempted to raise a chant of "no more war!" However, they were quickly drowned out by a much more powerful counter-chant of "USA! USA!" encouraged by Allen from the podium. Anti-interventionism is a powerful force in the party — it's why Clinton lost the primary in 2008. Yet for the moment it seems the party's center of gravity is willing to adopt a pro-military stance. Ryan Cooper
When NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took the stage at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night, he introduced himself as Michael Jordan. "I say that because I know Donald Trump couldn't tell the difference," the retired pro basketball player said. For that reason and more, he said, "I'm here with Hillary."
Watch Abdul-Jabbar crack the joke, below. Becca Stanek
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 29, 2016
Thursday night of the Democratic convention featured several conservative figures, such as Doug Elmets, a budget director for President Reagan, and Jennifer Lim, a Republican who works for the Chamber of Commerce.
But the most awkward moment of the night thus far came immediately afterwards, when Lupe Valdez, the sheriff of Dallas, gave a speech lamenting the recent shooting deaths of several police officers. Left-wing groups have been protesting police brutality for over two years now, an issue which has gotten respectful attention earlier in the convention. So when Valdez asked for a moment of silence for slain police officers, it was not surprising that a few people shouted "Black Lives Matter," and a sense of palpable awkwardness pervaded the hall. Ryan Cooper
Doug Elmets, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, admitted when he took the stage at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday that it was not an event he'd ever thought he'd attend.
"Unlike many of you, I'm a Republican," he said. "Forty years ago, I cast my first vote for president, voting Republican that day like I would do time and again." He still reveres his former boss, and had a stinging message for Donald Trump. "I came here tonight to say I knew Ronald Reagan, I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan." Reagan, he continued, "famously said, 'Tear down this wall.' Trump says, 'Build the wall.' Reagan saw nuance and Trump sees the world as us versus them, where somebody with brown skin or a foreign sounding name is likely to blame for our troubles. Reagan knew a leader needs diplomacy to steer a safe, prosperous course forward. Trump is a petulant, dangerously unbalanced reality star who will coddle tyrants and alienate allies."
Elmets called the Republican Party's platform the most alarming he's ever seen, "laced with anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-women positions that do not represent the views of most Americans." While he does not agree with Hillary Clinton on every issue and policy, he plans to vote for her, the first time he'll ever cast his ballot for a Democrat, and asked Republicans who believe "loyalty to our country is more important than loyalty to our party" to do the same. Catherine Garcia
While everyone's eyes were glued to the Democratic National Convention's stage last night, Hillary Clinton and President Obama were practically falling out of their seats laughing backstage. In a private moment between the president and the Democratic presidential nominee Wednesday night, something so funny was said that Obama literally doubled over chuckling:
— Christina Ginn (@ChristinaCNN) July 28, 2016
While only Obama and Clinton seemed to be in on this particular joke, there were a lot more interactions going on behind the scenes.
Vice President Joe Biden, for one, gave lots of hugs:
Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine practiced his speech:
And Obama and former President Bill Clinton had a good long talk:
Now, if only we knew what that joke was. Becca Stanek