Continuing with today's theme of tax violence, avoidance and straight up creepiness, here's a strange […]
And Doug Shulman will not like it. Or Charlie Rangel. OR Tim Geithner.
The rumored Presidential hopeful simply would like to see the members of Congress pick up a copy of TurboTax from their local OfficeMax™, grab their W-2s and 1099s and crank out their own 1040.
“No help of an accountant, a lawyer or a tax specialist,” he said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“And if they can’t do it, we give them a certification they can go get some help. But I’d like every one of those individuals to have to do their own taxes every year and live with the mindless burdens we put on the American people.”
And before you get all “what’s good for the goose” on TP, he’s got a tax-form anecdote for you:
Pawlenty lamented that he recently filled out a W-9 that had four pages of instructions for a half-page form.
Now, hold it right there. Filling out a W-9 doesn’t exactly qualify as “preparing a tax return.” If you want to dive into the nitty gritty of any of these forms, then we’ll listen to your beef but don’t waste our time with “four pages of instructions for a half-page form.” That’s child’s play.
If you want to call attention to bullshit political games, we humbly suggest, “bullshit political games.” Not this:
“This is a huge loophole for Enron-type accounting … In the rule they pass tomorrow they are going to reiterate that the chair of the budget committee has the authority to come up with his own estimate of the budget impact of various pieces of legislation.”
So aggressive revenue recognition, abusing mark-to-market accounting and SPEs = marginalizing the Congressional Budget Office. Got it?
As soon as you catch your breath from laughing hysterically, feel free to continue.
Max Baucus turns
59 69 on December 11th, so even if you assume that he will have the life expectancy of Robert Byrd that means he’s got 32 22 years of watching the IRS’s every move. Sure, we’re making the assumption that the IRS has a snowflake’s chance in Hell of closing the tax gap but that’s an assumption we’re comfortable making.
The General Accounting Office recently stated that the IRS was using “antiquated techniques” to fight tax evasion and Baucus feels compelled to be on top of the situation until the tax gap is a distant memory.
“This report makes clear the IRS needs to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight complex tax evasion schemes and that more work is needed to close the tax gap,” Baucus said in prepared remarks. “I intend to closely monitor the IRS’ progress to make sure they have an effective strategy to root out this tax evasions and close the tax gap once and for all.”
You may now resume laughing until you soil yourself.
Baucus urges new strategy for IRS to combat evasion [On the Money]
Attention Twin Cities nonprofit leaders! Looking to blow off your responsibilities for one more day? Don’t know what we’re talking about, you say? Yeah, losing your tax-exempt status isn’t really that important.
Anyway, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (who, apparently, isn’t aware of more pressing issues) is giving you the opportunity today at 1 pm local time to discuss HR 5533 rather than file your delinquent 990(s) that are DUE TOMORROW.
Washington, DC – Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) will join nonprofit leaders in a public discussion about how to strengthen Minnesota communities by improving the partnership between nonprofits and the federal government. The conversation will be an opportunity for local nonprofit and foundation leaders to engage in dialogue about the Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act (H.R. 5533), federal legislation introduced by the Congresswoman.
There has already been a tremendous response from the nonprofit community. The event has reached its full capacity of nearly 200 attendees.
Although the nonprofit sector plays a significant role in the U.S. economy and is critical for the implementation of government policies and programs, no federal entity is responsible for promoting the success of the nonprofit sector as a whole. In an attempt to bridge that gap, Congresswoman McCollum introduced the Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act in June. This bipartisan legislation takes the first steps toward integrating the nonprofit sector into the federal policymaking process by establishing formal structures in Congress and federal administrative agencies focused on the success of nonprofits. To date, H.R. 5533 has 20 cosponsors and is officially supported by over 500 nonprofit organizations across the country.
WHO: Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) (keynote)
Jon Pratt, Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (keynote)
Pham Thi Hoa, Executive Director, CAPI
Mark Peterson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lutheran Social Service
Sandra Vargas, President and CEO, The Minneapolis Foundation
WHEN: Thursday, October 14, 2010, 1:00 – 2:30 PM
WHERE: Neighborhood House, 179 Robie Street East, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55107-2360
Reportedly, South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley likes to cite her experience as an accountant on the campaign trail.
That’s all well and good but now there are reports all over the web that Ms Haley has a helluva time filing her taxes on time and that she and her husband racked up some fines because of their tardiness. This, of course, has people freaking out because A) she’s running for public office and B) because she’s an accountant.
The AP reports, “Tax records released Wednesday by Haley’s campaign show she and her husband have filed their taxes late since at least 2004. Haley is a fiscal conservative and tea party favorite who cites her experience as an accountant on the campaign trail. The state legislator and her husband have been fined nearly $4,500 over five years. Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey says the Haleys filed extensions when necessary and have paid what was required.”
What the AP doesn’t tell you, that everyone in the biz knows, is that accountants like Haley likely don’t know a damn thing about taxes. There’s nothing to indicate that she has work experience as a tax accountant. It’s a common misconception amongst non-beancounters that accountant = tax genius. Obviously this is bullshit and that the truth of the matter is that most non-tax accountants would rather chew broken glass than even consider picking up a Master Tax Guide.
Further, since Haley and her husband’s income has nearly tripled since the year she was elected to the SC house, they probably started using a CPA and got used to blowing off their taxes until October. Happens all the time.
Besides, since Ms Haley is endorsed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, this can only strengthen her base with these people. They only wish they had the money and the fortitude to blow off their tax responsibilities like Ms Haley.
The latest act in the ongoing circus known as the estate tax debate has three “liberal” senators – Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) – calling for billionaires to help close the $13 trillion some-odd federal deficit that these über-rich people ate.
Forbes reports that the Messrs. Sanders, Harkin and Whitehouse sent a letter to their fellow Senators laying out their case, “According to Forbes Magazine, there are only 403 billionaires in the U.S. with a collective net worth of $1.3 trillion. Clearly, the heirs to these multibillion fortunes should be paying a higher estate tax rate than others.”
The champs of the bill also go to the trouble of singling out Dan L. Duncan whose family stands to inherit his $9 billion fortune tax free. It’s a good thing those staffers pointed out that article in the Times to their respective Senators!
• Exempts the first $3.5 million of an estate from federal taxation ($7 million for couples), the same exemption that existed in 2009. Doing this would mean that 99.75% of all estates would be exempted from the federal estate tax in 2011 alone.
• Includes a progressive rate structure so that the super wealthy pay more. Under our bill, the rate for the value of the estate above $3.5 million and below $10 million would be 45%, the same as the 2009 level. The rate on the value of estates above $10 million and below $50 million would be 50%, and the rate on the value of estates above $50 million would be 55%.
• Includes a billionaire’s surtax of 10%. Our bill also imposes a 10% surtax on the value of an estate above $500 million ($1 billion for couples). According to Forbes Magazine, there are only 403 billionaires in the United States with a collective net worth of $1.3 trillion. Clearly, the heirs to these multi-billion fortunes should be paying a higher estate tax rate than others.
• Closes all of the Estate and Gift Tax Loopholes requested in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget. These loophole closers include requiring consistent valuation for transfer and income tax purposes; a modification of rules on valuation discounts; and a required 10-year minimum term for Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATS). OMB has estimated that closing these loopholes that benefit the super-wealthy, would raise at least $23.7 billion in revenue over 10 years.
• Protects family farmers by allowing them to lower the value of their farmland by up to $3 million for estate tax purposes. Under current law, the value of farmland can be reduced up to $1 million for estate tax purposes under § 2032(a) (Special Use Valuation). Our bill increases this level to $3 million and indexes it to inflation.
• Benefits farmers and other landowners by providing estate tax relief for conservation easements. Our bill provides tax relief to farmers and other landowners by amending estate tax rules for conservation easements through an increase in the maximum exclusion amount to $2 million and increasing the base percentage to 60%.
Nice work on those last two Senator Harkin; you couldn’t be more obvious.
In case you didn’t catch it in there, the estate tax on the billionaires will be 55% PLUS! an additional 10% surtax. Sounds crazy right? Congress royally fucks things up by letting the estate tax expire in the first place and then has the stones to throw the double whammy on the rich because of it. Had they simply extended the estate tax (which seems to be a popular solution, btw) this political pigskin wouldn’t even be an issue.
But guess what? There are people behind this thing lock, stock and barrel. For one, the United for a Fair Economy (“UFE”) more or less says that this legislation is the catalyst to fixing everything, “The Sanders-Harkin-Whitehouse Responsible Estate Tax Act is an important step on the road to an economic recovery that benefits all Americans.”
Well, not all Americans.
Accounting News Roundup: Financial Reform Fail; KPMG Wins Latest Round of Auditor Musical Chairs; Philly Tax Amnesty Close to Reaching Goals | 06.24.10
A Missed Opportunity on Financial Reform [WSJ]
Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt is none too pleased with the financial reform bill that’s likely to get approved by the Senate and he says exactly why in an op-ed in today’s Journal, “One of many bad ideas that made it into the bill: Public companies will now have a wider loophole to avoid doing internal audits investors can trust. This requirement was the most important pro-investor reform of the last decade, and it worked. Of the 522 U.S. financial restatements in 2009, 374 were at small firms not subject to auditor reviews.”
But that’s not all! Mr Levitt outlines pic failure including:
• “Chuck Schumer’s wise idea to let the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) become a self-funded agency will likely be killed by appropriators who are unwilling to give up the power of the purse.”
• “Barney Frank’s (D., Mass.) effort to pass a new law to overcome the legal precedent of the 2008 Supreme Court’s Stoneridge decision, which allows third-party consultants, accountants and other abettors of fraud to avoid liability. Again, another sellout of investor interests.”
• “Congress didn’t deal with the massive problems of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It’s one thing to fail to see trouble before it happens. Now, there’s no excuse. The central role played by these two organizations in the financial crisis is indisputable. Congress had a chance to fully restrict these agencies from anything but the most basic market-making activities, and it didn’t.”
What does all this (and more!) mean? Oh, nothing really. Levitt says that we’ll just have to wait for the next financial apocalypse to get it right.
InfoLogix Announces the Engagement of KPMG, LLP as the Company’s Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm [PR]
McGladrey resigned on June 10th and the company’s filing stated that were no disagreements yada, yada, yada although McGladrey had identified a material weakness in the company’s internal controls and their most recent audit opinion included a going concern paragraph. It wasn’t enough to spook KPMG, who got the blessing from InfoLogix’s audit committee on Tuesday. Enjoy.
BP Relied on Faulty U.S. Data [WSJ]
“BP PLC and other big oil companies based their plans for responding to a big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on U.S. government projections that gave very low odds of oil hitting shore, even in the case of a spill much larger than the current one.
The government models, which oil companies are required to use but have not been updated since 2004, assumed that most of the oil would rapidly evaporate or get broken up by waves or weather. In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon caught fire and sank, real life has proven these models, prepared by the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service, wrong.”
Leadership changes at Wichita Grant Thornton office [Wichita Business Journal]
“Lori A. Davis is the new managing partner at the Grant Thornton office in Wichita, the company announced Wednesday.
Davis will take the place of Jarod Allerheiligen, who will become the managing partner of the Grant Thornton operations in Minneapolis. The change in responsibilities is scheduled to take place Aug. 1.”
Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick indicted by feds on 19 mail fraud, tax counts [Detroit Free Press]
“Despite Kilpatrick’s repeated claims to the contrary, the indictment says he used fund money for campaign and personal expenses, ranging from polling to yoga and golf lessons to college tuition for relatives.
Prosecutors contend he failed to report more than $640,000 in taxable income while mayor that he received in the form of cash, flights on private jets and perks paid for out of the civic fund.”
$2 million payment to Phila. tax-amnesty program [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Philly’s tax amnesty program received a $2 million payment on Tuesday, it’s biggest since the program started on May 3. Collections so far have reached $18 million, according to city officials. They also expect to reach their goal of receiving between $25 and $30 million by the end of the program on Friday.
Feinberg to quit pay czar post to focus on BP fund [Reuters]
This guy is a glutton for punishment.
Since the the stench of last-minute pandering to voters is in the air today, Howard Gleckman points out over at TaxVox that while many candidates are quick to launch in with “I will cut taxes!” or “I believe in smaller government!” to catch some of the hot Tea Party action, these candidates (and many of the Tea Party types themselves) don’t really qualify as fiscal conservatives (if you go by the Wikipedia definition) who support balanced budgets and deficit reduction:
They are plainly interested in tax cuts—a core belief that appears repeatedly on Websites, position papers, and speeches throughout the movement. And while tea partiers say they favor smaller government, many in fact propose to shrink it in only trivial ways—by cutting earmarks or waste and abuse. Candidates elected on platforms supporting very large tax cuts and small spending reductions are likely to oppose aggressive efforts to reduce deficits, not back them. While some analysts see the tea partiers as the 21st century progeny of Ross Perot’s fiscal conservatism, nothing could be further from the truth.
One of Gleckman’s examples is Sharon Angle who claims to be the “one true conservative” (presumably that means a fiscal conservative) and is running for the Republican nomination in Nevada to face off against Harry Reid. Here is one of her ads:
There’s the mantra: “Limited Government!” “Lower Taxes!” As Mr Gleckman notes, Ms Angle would “abolish the Internal Revenue Code but doesn’t quite say how she’d finance government.” That’s a bit of a problem, especially since she says in her “On the Issues” page under healthcare that “the government must continue to keep its contract with seniors, who entered into the system on good faith and now are depending on that contract.”
Since this essentially represents the Tea Party’s position on healthcare we’ll agree with Gleckman when he says, “This view makes deficit reduction a challenge at best, especially when paired with big tax cuts.”
The point here is this – if you’re beating the drum of tax cuts and limited government to pander to a hot political movement but if you’re going to largely continue to spend tax dollars with the same fervor as George W. Bush, that doesn’t make you the second coming of Ross Perot.
After the wisdom displayed by Senators in the Goldman Sachs hearing a couple weeks ago, it must have become evident to a group of concerned organizations took it upon themselves to voice concern with regard to any elected official that might give consideration to tipping his or her toe into the accounting standard waters.
Enter Son of Ohio, Sherrod Brown (D) who has proposed amendment SA 3853 to the financial regulation reform bill. The amendment would legislate financial reporting standards by forcing companies to “submit reports to the commission under this section record all assets and liabilities of the issuer on the balance sheet of the issuer.”
But don’t worry if you can’t figure out what the value of a liability is because you can just leave it off altogether granted that you don’t mind explaining:
“(i) the nature of the liability and purpose for incurring the liability; (ii) the most likely loss and the maximum loss the issuer may incur from the liability; (iii) whether any other person has recourse against the issuer with respect to the liability and, if so, the conditions under which such recourse may occur; and (iv) whether the issuer has any continuing involvement with an asset financed by the liability or any beneficial interest in the liability.”
While this seems all very well thought out, the CAQ, CFA Institute, AICPA, FEI and a gaggle of others smelled amateur hour and wrote a letter to the old boys in the Senate letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that this pretty much the worst idea they’ve ever heard:
[W]e are concerned with any amendment that would legislate accounting standards, including Brown amendment SA 3853 regarding “Financial Reporting.”
The accounting standards underlying such financial statements derive their legitimacy from the confidence that they are established, interpreted and, when necessary, modified based on independent, objective considerations that focus on the needs and demands of investors – the primary users of financial statements.
We believe political influences that dictate one particular outcome for an accounting standard without the benefit of a public due process that considers the views of investors and other stakeholders would have adverse impacts on investor confidence and the quality of financial reporting, which are of critical importance to the successful operation of the U.S. capital markets.
So in other words, Sherrod Brown, you can suck it. The FASB might not be hottest piece of ass around but by GOD, it’s what we’ve got. And we’ll be damned if you’re going to propose your hocus pocus American people Main St. financial statement Act.
Accounting News Roundup: Dissecting Overstock.com’s Q1 Earnings; The “Audit the Fed” Drum Still Has a Beat; AMT Patchwork Continues | 05.05.10
Can Investors Rely on Overstock.com’s Reported Q1 2010 Numbers? [White Collar Fraud]
Sam Antar is skeptical (an understatement at best), that Overstock.com’s recently filed first quarter 10-Q is reliable and he starts off by citing their own words (his emphasis):
“As of March 31, 2010, we had not remediated the material weaknesses.”
Material weaknesses notwithstanding, Sam is a little con pany’s first quarter $3.72 million profit that, Sam writes, “was helped in large part by a $3.1 million reduction in its estimated allowance for returns or sales returns reserves when compared to Q1 2009.”
Furthermore, several one-time items helped the company swing from a net loss of nearly $4 million in Q1 of ’09, including nearly $2 million in extinguishment of debt and reduction in legal expenses due to a settlement. All this (and much more) gets Sam to conclude that OSTK’s Q1 earnings are “highly suspect.”
UBS Dividend in Next 2-3 Years ‘Symbolic’: CFO [CNBC]
UBS has fallen on hard times. The IRS, Bradley Birkenfeld, a Toblerone shortage and increased regulation and liquidity requirements have all made life for the Mother of Swiss Banks difficult and CFO John Ryan told CNBC that could hurt their ability to pay their usual robust dividend, “They (capital regulations) are essentially rigorous to the extent that it is unlikely we’ll be able to pay anything other than a very symbolic dividend over the next two or three years,” Cryan said.
While that is a bummer but a “symbolic” dividend is still an improvement over “we’ve recently been informed that the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department will be demanding that we turn over the names of our U.S. clients.”
Effort to expand audits of Fed picks up steam in Senate [WaPo]
Going after the Fed makes for good political theatre (*ahem* Ron Paul) and rhetoric to fire up the torches of the populist masses. The “Audit the Fed” drum continues to be beaten by the likes of Rep. Paul (R-TX) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to much success and Sanders is quoted in the Washington Post as saying “We’re going to get a vote.” Pols want to crack open the books at the Fed to find out what the ugliest of the ugly is inside our Central Bank.
Ben Bernanke isn’t hot on the idea because letting the GAO sniff around may expose the Fed to short-term political pressures. For once AG – not a fan of the Beard per se – sides with BSB. As she said last fall:
It’s right there in the footnotes – pulling out the closest Fed annual report I’ve got (Richmond Fed 2007), both Deloitte and PwC agree that the Fed is a special case in Note 3: Significant Accounting Policies:
“Accounting principles for entities with unique powers and responsibilities of the nation’s central bank have not been formulated by accounting standard-setting bodies.”
The note goes on to explain why government securities held by the Fed are presented at amortized cost instead of GAAP’s fair value presentation because “amortized cost more appropriately reflects the Bank’s securities holdings given the System’s unique responsibility to conduct monetary policy.” Right there, you can see why auditing this thing might be a problem.
This might be one of those “careful what you wish for” scenarios.
Why We’re Going to Keep Patching the AMT—And Why It Will Cost So Much [Tax Vox]
The Alternative Minimum Tax has been a unmitigated failure in the eyes of many tax wonks. Congress has been talking reform in this area for some time and yet, the AMT remains largely unchanged, relying on temporary fixes that could eventually turn into a disaster:
Last year, about 4 million households were hit by the tax, which requires unsuspecting taxpayers to redo their returns without the benefit of many common tax deductions and personal exemptions. That would jump to 28.5 million this year, except for what’s become an annual fix to the levy, which effectively holds the number of AMT victims steady.
Here’s what happens if Washington does not continue that “temporary” adjustment. If Obama gets his wish and extends nearly all of the Bush taxes, the number of households hit by the AMT would soar to more than 53 million by the end of the decade—nearly half of all taxpayers. AMT revenues—about $33 million last year—would triple this year and reach nearly $300 billion by 2020. That is a nearly 10-fold explosion in AMT revenues.
Howard Gleckman argues that the AMT is too big of a political threat to let members of Congress let this sneak by and that the patchwork will continue but that it probably shouldn’t, “The President can assume the AMT will be patched indefinitely, but assuming won’t pay the bills. Unless he is willing to raise other taxes or cut spending to pay for this AMT fix, he’ll have to borrow more than $1 trillion to kick the can down the road for the rest of this decade.”