Death and taxes
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.