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
No. 8 Rafael Nadal bowed out of the U.S Open early after falling in a grueling five-set match Friday night. The Spanish star led No. 32 Fabio Fognini of Italy after 2 sets at Arthur Ashe Stadium, but after nearly four hours, he was ousted 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
The third-round loss breaks Nadal's 10-year streak of winning at least one Grand Slam title. "The only thing it means is I played amazing the last 10 years," he said.
Fognini called his hard-earned upset a "mental victory."
"That was one of greatest, most spectacular comebacks you're ever going to see on a tennis court," tennis legend John McEnroe said. "The level that he played to mount that miraculous comeback will be remembered for a long time." Julie Kliegman
About 4,000 migrants, many fleeing war in Syria, arrived in Austria early Saturday, where they were greeted by applause, food, and medical supplies. Many refugees, which Hungary agreed to bus, will request asylum in Austria, while others will continue on to Germany, BBC News reports.
Europe's ongoing migrant crisis has seen renewed attention in September after graphic photos emerged of a Syrian toddler's body washed up on a Turkish beach. The United Nations called on the European Union to help migrants Friday, one day after Hungary had forced migrants off of the nation's trains. Many of the migrants, including young children, had walked along Hungary's train tracks for hours toward Austria before boarding buses.
Jailed Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis will reportedly appeal her contempt of court ruling and has no plans to resign as Rowan County clerk, her lawyer said Friday. Davis, who was sent to jail Thursday after a judge found her in contempt of court for defying the Supreme Court's order to issue same-sex marriage licenses, says she has a "clean conscience."
Though a deputy clerk began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Davis' absence Friday, her attorney asserted that the licenses are void because she didn't authorize them. Samantha Rollins
Only in America: University professors threaten to give bad grades to students who use 'offensive' language, like 'male' and 'female'
Washington State University professors have warned students that using "oppressive and hateful language" such as "male," "female," and "illegal immigrant" will result in bad grades. But administrators promised to ensure that no student will be punished for "using terms that may be deemed offensive to some."
In a Friday interview with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once again refused to apologize for using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. "I'm sorry this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions," Clinton said.
While she admitted a personal server "wasn't the best choice," she maintained that she never knowingly broke the law. "This was fully above board, people knew I was using a personal email, I did it for convenience," Clinton said. "I sent emails that I thought were work related to people's dot gov accounts."
Jellyfish are "hypnotizing to watch," writes BlessThisStuff, so why not let them hypnotize you in your home or office? The Pulse 80 Jellyfish Aquarium ($1300) was designed with the special needs of jellyfish in mind, and it lets a human operator play with lighting effects. A remote control that governs the LED system lets you choose among thousands of colors and set the brightness and timing for flashes or color shifts. The aquarium is handmade from scratch-resistant cast acrylic and features a low-maintenance filtration system and an Italian-made pump designed to be virtually silent while operating.
A Georgia school district is investigating the mass baptism of its high school football players just before practice. A video showing the baptism appeared on a Baptist church's website, with the caption: "See how God is STILL in our schools." A spokeswoman for the Freedom From Religion Foundation said the coach was illegally misusing his authority "to promote his personal religious agenda.'' School district officials said they would "take appropriate steps."