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April 15, 2014
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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

11:18 a.m. ET

Paleontologists have discovered the world's largest dinosaur footprint in a region of Australia's Dampier Peninsula coastline dubbed "Australia's Jurassic Park." The print measures nearly 5 feet, 9 inches in length. Previously, the biggest dinosaur footprint ever discovered was one found last July in Bolivia that measured nearly 3 feet, 9 inches long.

The footprint found in Australia is believed to have been left by a type of sauropod dinosaur, "long-necked, large plant-eaters" that Gizmodo noted "have been found on every continent except Antarctica." "The giant footprints are no doubt spectacular," Steve Salisbury, the lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Queensland, told CNN. "There's nothing that comes close."

The record-setting footprint wasn't the only fascinating find made by Salisbury and his team: They also discovered the region was once home to a remarkably diverse dinosaur population. "The tracks provide a snapshot, a census if you will, of an extremely diverse dinosaur fauna," Salisbury told Gizmodo. "Twenty-one different types of dinosaurs all living together at the same time in the same area. We have never seen this level of diversity before, anywhere in the world. It's the Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti! And it's written in stone." Becca Stanek

11:06 a.m. ET

Jeffrey Lovitky is suing President Trump. It's a rather daunting task: Lovitky works at a one-man law firm that NPR describes as "a single room just large enough for a desk, a credenza, three bookcases, and two chairs." In fact, Lovitky wishes he wasn't suing Trump at all.

"It is intimidating. I am intimidated," Lovitky told NPR. "I mean, I would rather not be doing this."

But Lovitky has found something wrong with President Trump's financial disclosure form from last May. The form blends Trump's personal liabilities with his corporate liabilities, and as a result, it is impossible to distinguish the personal alone. Ultimately, "the report withholds from citizens something the law says they should have: an accounting of the president's personal liabilities," NPR writes. If Lovitky's case successfully survives the expected return-fire — a motion to dismiss the case for lack of standing — he could "end up setting a precedent that ordinary Americans can sue to seek enforcement of federal ethics laws."

"You go back to the basic premise of what is each individual's civic responsibility?" Lovitky explained. "What do you owe?

Lovitky's federal lawsuit is one of 108 that name Trump as a defendant since Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20. Listen to Lovitky's story below. Jeva Lange

10:40 a.m. ET
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Honolulu-born former President Barack Obama is returning to his tropical roots to work on his memoir, The Washington Post reports. On the heels of post-presidency vacations through Palm Springs, the Caribbean, and Hawaii, Obama is now staying on the South Pacific island of Tetiaroa, where he reportedly plans to write his book.

The French Polynesian atoll once belonged to Marlon Brando and is a favorite vacation spot of celebrities. Obama reportedly arrived at the Tetiaroa resort alone and will stay for at least a month. It is unclear if the rest of his family will be joining him; daughters Malia and Sasha are busy with an internship and high school, respectively.

Former first lady Michelle Obama is also working on a memoir. Her joint deal with her husband is reportedly worth at least $60 million. Jeva Lange

10:28 a.m. ET
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The Associated Press tallied up the potential costs of North Carolina's bathroom bill, and the total isn't pretty. Because of the legislation passed last year rolling back LGBTQ protections and requiring transgender individuals to use the restroom that corresponds to their biological sex, The Associated Press estimated North Carolina will "suffer more than $3.76 billion in lost business" by the end of 2028.

One of the biggest blows is the canceled construction of the PayPal facility, which The Associated Press reported would have "added an estimated $2.6 billion to the state's economy." Other costs include called-off concerts, the NCAA's refusal to host tournaments in North Carolina, and the NAACP's national economic boycott — to name just a few.

Shortly after the bill was signed into law last year, then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R) assured North Carolinians the law would not impact the state's status as "one of the top states to do business in the country." Lt. Gov Dan Forest has maintained the bill's effect is "minimal to the state" and warned people not to be "fooled by the media" into thinking the issue is "about the economy."

But The Associated Press found North Carolina's economy "could be growing faster if not for the projects that have already [been] canceled," noting its cost estimate is "likely an underestimation." In total, North Carolina has lost out on "more than 2,900 direct jobs that went elsewhere," AP reported.

Because the estimate is based on projects and events the state has already lost out on, North Carolina won't be getting that money back even if the law gets repealed. Read the full story over at The Associated Press. Becca Stanek

9:53 a.m. ET
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While many moderate Republicans are now eyeing opportunities to cooperate with Democrats on health care, still others are doubling-down on their repeal message. For House Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), whose ultra-conservative faction helped take down the GOP health-care bill, the do-or-die message has earned him positive feedback in his home state, Politico reports. As one local flier advertising a Meadows rally raves: "This is the face of leadership! Thank Mark and all those who gave us an opportunity to get health care right."

"I respect [Meadows] for staying true to his principles," said one of Meadows' constituents, Jerry Moore of Highlands, North Carolina. "Trump promised repeal. That was no repeal."

"What's happening now is no longer the Trump plan. It is the Obama plan," agreed the local GOP chairman, Jackson County's Ralph Slaughter.

The Affordable Care Act covered thousands of people in North Carolina in 2016, but only one insurer in the state participates in the ObamaCare exchanges. Still, as Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor told Politico: "People like the Affordable Care Act. They don't like ObamaCare. And they just don't realize [they're the same]."

For his part, Meadows said Sunday: "This is not the end of the [health-care] debate. It's like saying that Tom Brady lost at halftime." Jeva Lange

9:41 a.m. ET

When CBS correspondent Scott Pelley sat down with Michael Cernovich, founder of alt-right blog Danger and Play, on Sunday night's episode of 60 Minutes to discuss fake news, it quickly became apparent that Cernovich's definition of "truth" was not the same as Pelley's. Cernovich's blog — which Pelley noted has "become a magnet for readers with a taste for stories with no basis in fact" — was one of several websites that pushed the Pizzagate story, the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was operating a child sex-trafficking operation in the back of a D.C. pizzeria which led a man to open fire in that pizzeria last December.

"These news stories are fakes," Pelley said, right off the bat. "They're definitely not fake," Cernovich said, insisting the stories were "not lies at all" and "100 percent true."

When Pelley asked if Cernovich was just saying that because "it's important for marketing" his website, Cernovich maintained he believed it. "I don't say anything that I don't believe," Cernovich said, claiming that's a "high bar" because he's an attorney.

Pelley pointed to a baseless headline published on Cernovich's blog, "Hillary Clinton has Parkinson's Disease, physician confirms," to see if he could get Cernovich to admit that may have been "misleading." The story was sourced to an anesthesiologist who had never met the Democratic presidential nominee, and was later denied by the National Parkinson Foundation and Clinton's doctor.

But Cernovich stood by it. "I don't take anything Hillary Clinton is gonna say at all as true. I'm not gonna take her on her word," he said. "The media says we're not gonna take Donald Trump on his word. And that's why we are in these different universes."

Watch the 60 Minutes segment below. Becca Stanek

9:31 a.m. ET

In February, actor Harrison Ford had a bit of a mix-up at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, landing his private plane on the taxiway instead of the runway and narrowly missing a loaded passenger plane. The audio of Ford's call to air-traffic control has been released, and it's classic Harrison Ford.

"I'm the schmuck that landed on the taxiway," he said, explaining that he had been "distracted" by an airliner in movement and "the big turbulence" from a landing Airbus. "Okay, so can I just get your name and your pilot's license?" the unidentified air-traffic controller asked. "The name is Harrison Ford," Ford said. "Okay," the controller said, nonchalantly. Ford explained that he had to find his license in his backpack. "Okay, take your time, no big deal," the air-traffic controller said. "Well, it's a big deal for me," Ford said.

This wasn't Ford's first brush with aviation disaster. But the 74-year-old flight enthusiast has had more hits than misses, earning him honors as a Living Legend of Aviation from the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy. Peter Weber

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