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
On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers will meet the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. But aside from the snacks and the commercials that star puppies, I'm pretty lukewarm about the spectacle.
And then I go and find a photo like this, from the very first Super Bowl in 1967, when the Green Bay Packers trounced the Kansas City Chiefs, and I lament my indifference to the sport.
Just look at their utter jubilation! The man in the middle, who's wearing what looks to be an ascot (imagine a time when football fans wore ties and ascots to the game!), waving his arms around like he just don't care, is having a near-religious experience. It's inspiring and I'm jealous. Lauren Hansen
Only in America: Lawmaker refuses to back LGBT civil rights protections because similar laws don't exist for obese people
An Indiana lawmaker is refusing to back civil rights protections for gays and lesbians because there are no similar laws protecting "fat white people." State Rep. Woody Burton called homosexuality "a behavioral thing," like overeating, and argued, "If I pass a law that says transgenders and homosexuals are covered under the civil rights laws, does it say anywhere that fat white people are covered?"
Twitter revealed Friday that it has deleted 125,000 accounts threatening or promoting terrorism since mid-2015, CNBC reports. The Brookings Institution estimated last year that there were at least 46,000 such accounts in existence; Twitter's numbers indicate that ISIS and other terrorist groups have either upped their presence on social media, or Twitter has become better at targeting terrorist accounts.
Spam-fighting technology flags posts by potential terrorists, which are then reviewed by humans, The Associated Press reports. Prior to Friday, Twitter had not revealed the scale to which terrorists were active on Twitter. Jeva Lange
At the price it sells for, this little chocolate ball "better cure PMS, heartbreak, and file our income taxes," said Dominique Haikel at E! Online. For years now, La Madeline au Truffle ($250) from Connecticut-based chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt has reigned as the most extravagant confection in the world. Each one is made to order to get the most of its seven-day shelf life. Dark chocolate dusted in cocoa powder encases a rare mushroom — a Périgord truffle — that's been smothered in a chocolate ganache infused with truffle oil. The whole thing weighs just 1.9 oz, but comes resting on a bed of sugar pearls in a pretty silver box.
The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, will meet in Cuba next Friday, marking the first such meeting between a pope and a Russian patriarch in history. The Eastern Orthodox and Western factions of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago in 1054's Great Schism over issues such as papal authority and have remained "formally estranged" ever since, The Washington Post reports.
The private, two-hour meeting will take place at José Martí International Airport in Havana. It's seen as the most significant effort ever made to repair relations. Becca Stanek
Rumor has it that Bernie Sanders will make an appearance on this weekend's Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Larry David, who just so happens to be a skilled imitator of the Vermont senator. "We'll be live in New York," Sanders' senior adviser Tad Devine told CNN Friday.
This would mark Sanders' first actual appearance on the show, though David has appeared many times this season to impersonate him. Sanders' Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton made a cameo back in October.
His appearance would come just days before the New Hampshire primaries on Tuesday. NBC has yet to make an official announcement. Becca Stanek
With four days to go until the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump has made what some believe is a questionable move — leaving the state altogether. While other candidates have been staying in hotels in the state, Trump canceled his New Hampshire event on Friday after inexplicably flying back to New York late Thursday. Trump instead plans to attend a rally in South Carolina Friday evening after essentially having "a day off," Red State reports.
"Big storm in New Hampshire. Moved my event to Monday. Will be there next four days," Trump tweeted by way of explanation.
The rest of the candidates have chosen to press on, not sharing Trump's habit of flying home every night after campaigning. "My 90-year-old mother made it out to campaign," Jeb Bush tweeted at Trump.
An anonymous official speaking with CNN also raised the question of if Friday's snowfall was truly a reason to cancel an event. "There are no other campaigns canceling events as far as I know right now. We would expect there to be a blizzard for a campaign to cancel. So maybe the question is: Why did he go back to New York last night?" the GOP official asked. Watch MSNBC break down the possible consequences of Trump's decision below. Jeva Lange